After my trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay in early February, I can’t deny that I wasn’t inspired by the rich nuance of flavours and fragrance that Vietnamese food has to offer.
Vietnamese cuisine has taken several influences from surrounding countries, but one of the most important aspects is that the vast majority of dishes are only lightly cooked, with the emphasis placed on fresh and tasty ingredients. One philosophy that is seen in the variety of spices used is that most meals will try and balance the sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty flavors. This idea of including five aspects to the meal also spreads to other aspects of the dishes, with top chefs looking to create meals with five colors and all five types of nutrients included in the meal.
In particular, fish sauce plays an important role in almost every Vietnamese meal, which is used for dipping, and is sometimes supplemented with chilli, ginger and lime juice. Here I have supplemented my nuoc nam (fish sauce) with crushed garlic, sugar, chilli flakes and freshly squeezed lime juice to give it the extra ‘twang’.
Today I have attempted to make lemongrass pork skewers using finely sliced pork tenderloin. Best to marinade overnight if you want maximum intensity of flavours, but I only managed for an hour or so and the results were still fool-proof.
INGREDIENTS: (makes ~15 skewers, serves 3-4)
For the meat and marinade:
- 1/2 pound pork tenderloin
- 1 lemongrass stalk, outer leaves and tops removed, root ends trimmed
- 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/8 cup fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
- 15 bamboo skewers (I used 6-inch ones here), soaked
- 1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
For the nuoc cham (fish dipping sauce):
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime guice
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 or more bird’s eye or Thai chillies, seeded and minced (or substitute with dried chilli flakes)
- 1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced, and rinsed (optional)
METHOD: 1) Remove outer leaves of lemongrass stalk and dice finely crosswise. Place in mortar and pestle and pound repeatedly.
2) Wash the pork tenderloin and pat dry with paper towel. Slice into long thin strips, ~5mm in thickness.
3) Stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and oil util the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the pounded lemongrass, shallot, garlic and pork slices and mix to coat the meat evenly. Allow to marinade at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight if desired. 4) Depending on how long your slices and bamboo skewers are, slide a 1-4 slices of pork onto each skewer so the meat is flat with the skewer going through the slices several times. Grill over a grill pan over high heat and cook the skewers until the edges crisp, about 1-2 minutes each side. 5) Make the nuoc cham for the rice vermicelli. Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, chilli, and shallot, and let stand for 30 minutes before serving. 6) Make the rice vermicelli by following package instructions. Here I placed the noodles in a pot of boiling water on medium heat for 3 minutes then drained it in a colander with running cold water. 7) Divide the grilled pork skewers among the bowls of rice vermicelli. Sprinkle the crushed peanuts and drizzle nuoc cham over each serving.