Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly (Thit Heo Kho Tau)

The name of this dish in Vietnamese translates to “Chinese braised pork,” but since this dish has been Vietnamized with the addition of coconut and fish sauce, I can’t really classify it as Chinese. :) Thit heo kho tau is eaten in so many Vietnamese homes and is traditionally cooked with coconut juice, but my family makes it with coconut milk, so I will continue our tradition. I generally try to cook healthy meals, but this exception is a worthy one!

Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly (Thit Heo Kho Tau)

(Yields 4 Entrée Portions)
  • 1 lb pork belly with skin (2 slabs), washed & patted dry
  • 8 hardboiled eggs, peeled
  • 2 slabs tofu, fried & quartered
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar, more to taste
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2-inch knob ginger, peeled & sliced
  • 1 Thai Bird’s Eye chili, left whole
  • 2 star anise seeds
  • Several black peppercorns
  • 13.5 fl oz can unsweetened Thai coconut milk (Chaokoh)
  • Same amount of water as coconut milk
  • ¼ cup dark soy sauce, more to taste
  • Splash of Vietnamese fish sauce to taste
  • Coriander & spring onion to garnish

Take a pin and pierce several holes into the hardboiled eggs. This will prevent any explosion when you fry them as well as allow the seasoning to penetrate the eggs as they braise. Fry the eggs until they are golden and set aside.

You can buy fried tofu or fry them yourself. I chose the lazy way today and bought a pack of fried tofu that contains two slabs. Quarter them or cut into bite-size chunks. Set aside.

I got these pork belly slabs from Super 88 Market in Allston. They've got them prepacked in neat little trays behind the meat counter (I think specifically for this dish). Place a dry, deep skillet over medium heat and fry the slabs of pork belly, fattier side down first. Cook until both sides are browned and then flip to fry the skin briefly. Set aside.

Find a big pot to accommodate all the ingredients for braising. Place it over high heat and drizzle with enough oil to fry the aromatics and caramelize the sugar. When oil is hot, add shallot, garlic, ginger, chili and star anise seeds and toss until fragrant. Drizzle sugar over the aromatics and toss until shallots have turned golden. Stir in coconut milk, water and soy sauce. If I’m cooking outdoors, then the fish sauce goes in at this point, but if I’m cooking indoors, then I hold off on the fish sauce until the end so that it doesn’t perfume the entire house. Add the fried pork belly, eggs and tofu into the sauce and slow simmer for a couple hours. When pork is tender, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning. You can add more water to adjust consistency or braise the pork longer.

I like to serve the pork belly in one piece because it’s so tender that you can just break it apart with your chopsticks, but you can slice as desired right before serving. Plate the pork with eggs and tofu and drizzle generously with sauce. Garnish with fresh cilantro and scallion and serve with steamed jasmine rice.


[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

We saw a version of this dish on Food Safari when they were featuring Vietnamese. We immediately tried cooking it, but I found the sauce too sweet for me. However, I didn't know that you add fried stuff in this! The guy on the show just added pork belly and braised in a liquid with shallots, green onions, coconut juice, fish sauce, some sugar. . .From your version, it seems like we missed the best parts of this dish!

This means it's a remake. Thanks for sharing this.

Tom Aarons said...

Love the idea of leaving the pork rashers whole. It makes the dish seem so abundant and decadent! Yum!

Tia said...

JS - When I was a kid, I would only eat the fried tofu from this dish because I loved how the fried tofu skin sucks up so much of that savory sauce. I never liked the eggs, but when my sister started frying them before braising, they were no longer safe from me! I've recently learned how to appreciate eating the pork belly (instead of just using it to make the sauce), but I still cannot imagine this dish w/o the fried stuff. :d I hope you'll enjoy it, too. Cheers.

Tom - Yes! My family always chunked the pork belly before cooking it, but I find that keeping it whole allows me to braise it longer, which allows for a crispy outer layer with an extremely tender texture inside. The fat simply melts in your mouth this way. Hahahaha.

Mark by Chocolate said...

If you get down to NYC, Momofuku does pork belly right.

Anonymous said...

Ma se noi la Ti chon thit heo gioi qua! muahahaha

Anonymous said...

so lucky to find this blog for recipes. u r such an amazing lady!!

fabulous job!


Hungry Huy said...

Whoa deep fried hard boiled eggs! That's a first for me. This version is heavily spiced compared to the one I made--I'll try this next time!

Tia said...

Actually, the eggs were pan-fried, not deep-fried. My family usually shallow fry them, but I thought I'd be more health conscious and pan fry them in olive oil in order to counter balance the pork belly. :) My family is Hue, so everything we eat would be more heavily spiced. ;)

Anonymous said...

How do you fry your eggs?? What temperature? Is there any trick for your eggs to look like that?? Mine just turn black :( and doesn't really get crispy skin like that. Thanks

Tia said...

I just pan-fry them in a non-stick skillet over med to med-high heat. I turn them in order to fry all four sides instead of deep-frying them. Hope this helps! :)