Thịt kho tàu is not something you're likely to find in a Vietnamese restaurant. But it's a very popular dish in Vietnam, and if anything is going to compete with phở for the title of national dish, it's this caramelized pork braised with eggs in coconut juice. A humble peasant dish, thịt kho tàu is most often prepared in individual Vietnamese kitchens in large quantities. It then lasts for days, getting better and better each passing day as it marinates in its juices. It was one of my BF's favorite dishes growing up, so naturally, I decided I'd try my hand at it. What better way to a man's heart, after all, than to make him remember his mom in my cooking? And it's a good time of year to give thịt kho tàu a whirl, since it's a quite popular Lunar New Year dish.
I cobbled this recipe together by looking at and taking bits and pieces from several different recipes. I do, however, have to give a shoutout to my girl Helen, the Vietnamese cooking goddess. Bless you, Helen.
So...let's get started!
The first thing you need to do is hard-boil some eggs. I boiled 6, but there was a small disaster, and I was left with 5 eggs. Oh well. Peel them and set them aside for later.
Now, to the pork, the star of this show! I'm using about 2.5 pounds of pork shoulder, fat and all. You can use a few different cuts of pork for this dish, including the belly, butt, and leg. Fatty cuts are preferable. This isn't a time to get all healthy and crap.
Cut the pork into 1-inch cubes, or as close as you can, and set aside in a large bowl.
You will need to marinate the pork. Here's what you're going to need for the marinade:
You'll need a heaping tablespoon of chopped shallot, about 2 tablespoons of peeled and chopped ginger root, a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic, a teaspoon of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some black pepper.
Add all of the above ingredients to the bowl of pork.
Stir it up and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.
After the pork is done marinating, you need to make the nước màu, which is a caramel sauce used in many Vietnamese dishes. I hate making this because it is so fraught with danger, as there is a very thin line between caramel sauce and unusable, burnt blackness. I actually screwed up the nước màu twice for this dish. Here is what I did on the third try:
Combine 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a pot.
Cook on medium high heat for about 10 minutes. After that amount of time, it will start to caramelize and turn brown. Keep cooking it until it looks about like this:
Again, there is a thin line between good and terrible, so once you have achieved this color, remove it from the heat and add the pork mixture. Stir it up and put it back on the heat.
Cook the pork over high heat for a few minutes, stirring and making sure to brown the outside of the meat.
Then, add the eggs, 2.5 cups of water, and 2.5 cups of coconut juice. If you don't want to use coconut juice, you can substitute water, but it won't be nearly as good. This is supposed to be a sweet dish, and the coconut juice brings it to life.
Bring it to a boil. Skim off as much of the scum as you can, as you'll want the liquid to be as clear as possible.
You're going to need fish sauce now. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--there is a time to skimp and compromise, but when you're buying fish sauce is not one of those times. The quality really matters. I use Three Crabs brand Vietnamese nước mắm.
Add 1/2 cup of fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and stir.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours. Once it's done simmering, you'll be left with this. Mmmmm...caramelized deliciousness...and pork so tender it just falls apart in your chopsticks...
Serve in a bowl and top with some green onion cut diagonally. Make sure you get an egg or two. You should also eat some jasmine rice with the thịt kho tàu.
Like I said, this is a dish that is even better as a leftover. Tomorrow, I plan to have a bowl of leftover thịt kho tàu over rice with some fresh veggies for lunch.
I'd say my first stab at thịt kho tàu turned out pretty well. Next time, I might cut down on the soy sauce a bit, but it didn't ruin the dish. I can't wait for the BF to tell me how he likes it!
Bon appétit...or, chúc ngon miệng!
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