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)
- 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.