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Ground pork is an inexpensive protein, but I’d never found a great many inspiring recipes featuring it. I’d pick it up when I wanted to make eggrolls or wontons, but my imagination had never progressed much beyond that. Until one day, when I had a pound of it to use and felt too lazy to do all the filling and folding that eggrolls or wontons require, I started googling and came across a recipe for Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowls. See Nagi’s original recipe here.
I was intrigued – it didn’t require many ingredients and was quick to make. It also, quite frankly, sounded delicious with its combination of sweet, salty and hot flavors. I gave it a try, and after a few tweaks to suit my and my husband’s particular tastes, I had a new dish that is now a regular part of my weekly lineup.
You’ll notice I made a few changes from the original. First of all, I use soy sauce instead of fish sauce, as fish sauce is just too intense for me. I also reduced the amount of brown sugar. Feel free to adjust proportions to your taste. The lemongrass is optional, but highly recommended. If you don’t have any on hand, I would imagine that a bit of lime juice/zest would work as well. (As a side note, I highly recommend getting those tubes of pureed ginger and lemongrass in the produce department – one of those conveniences that I find it worthwhile to pay a bit extra for. But, if you mince your own, the amounts would be approximately the same). As for the red pepper flakes, we like quite a bit of heat, but reduce or leave out if that is not your thing.
You can serve over rice or noodles with the fresh vegetables of your choice. Traditionally these would be tomato and cucumber, but, since my husband doesn’t eat those, I went with carrot, red pepper and green onion. I find that the crunch and freshness of the vegetables is an essential contrast to intense flavor of the pork. And the colors are pretty, too.
Caramelized Pork Bowls
- 2 tbsp light cooking oil (I use peanut oil)
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp fresh ginger (pre-pureed from a tube or minced)
- 2 tsp fresh lemongrass (pre-pureed from a tube or minced -optional but highly recommended)
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or one small thai chili, minced)
- 1 lb ground pork
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium heat, add onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and red pepper flakes, saute until onions are translucent.
- Add pork, and fry until no longer pink, breaking it up as you go.
- Add brown sugar and soy sauce and mix well.
- Arrange pork in one layer in pan, increase heat to medium high, and let cook untouched until pork begins to caramelize - about 2-3 minutes.
- Mix pork up, then again arrange in a single layer, and let cook untouched until more caramelization occurs - about 2-3 minutes. Repeat until pork is as caramelized and crunchy as you like.
- Serve over rice or noodles with fresh vegatables of your choice.