Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thit Kho - Vietnamese Braised Pork

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Thit Kho is what we called this comfort food that we ate a lot of growing up.  I think it translates into something like caramelized meat.  It probaby has a much longer name, but brevity runs in all the Nguyens, I've noticed.  When I get off the phone, it's usually, "Okay, Bye!"  But I was inspired to make this dish this week just thinking back over the years about all the traditional Vietnamese food that I grew up eating.  I can see all 7 of us around the table with our little rice bowls, ready to fill them with whatever our chopsticks picked up from the many plates in front of us.  The talk was often about football - usually the Scrappers or the Cowboys or who was going to the Super Bowl.  We also talked about our friends often, too.  Was Tracy still going dating John, who's in the top ten in your class, who all is going to Governor's School with you, and then who else is pledging Kappa Sig at U of A from Nashville....Food and memories.  Wow...

Monday kicked off the Vietnamese New Year, and I wanted to educate the kids about it.  They did so great over the weekend.  I told about them about the "out with the old and in with the new" theme, and they hauled out 4 bags of donations to go to Savers and 4 bags to go to the trash.  I feel like their rooms have been so cleansed, which was really needed.  That earned them a couple of little red envelopes! 

When I was little, my parent's Asian friends would bring us little red envelopes filled with money.  It's part of the new year celebration.  Hey, I'll take that any day over trying to stay up till midnight for a 10 second countdown.  (I still want to have the mimosa in the morning, though.)

I've been reading about all the festivities around the globe surrounding the Vietnamese and Chinese New Year - which is a celebration that lasts 15 days this year.  I have found some really pretty pictures.  Can you see the Empire State Builiding lit in yellow and red?  Those are the lucky colors of the Chinese or Vietnamese New Year!

I also talked to the girls about starting the new year in the way that you want the rest of the year to go.  I know this may sound like common sense to some people, but there are some negative people around who may not have had this talk with their own mother!  I volunteer quite a bit at the girls' elementary school, so believe me I have seen a few.  So for 2012, the year of the Dragon, we vowed together to be positive, respectful, and kind.  It's what we want to come back to us.
I just realized that with the exploration of all the other different cultures and International cookbooks, I haven't even really mentioned enough about the lively, fresh flavors of the Vietnamese favorites that I grew up eating!  Since it's the week of Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, I think that now is a GREAT time!  Now, why that word is also the name of the "Tet Offensive" I have no idea...

Make ahead:  the soft - boiled eggs
Place 8 large free range organic eggs into a medium sacuepan.  Or regular eggs I guess.  Cover with an inch of water.  Bring up to a boil over high heat.  Lower heat to a simmer for 4 minutes.  Run cold water over the eggs, then when they're manageable, place them in an ice bath for 10 minutes.  Thanks to Chef Michael Ruhlman for this method.
It's the natural cane sugar that caramelizes the pork in this dish.  My brother Tien likes to make his caramel separately in a different saucepan, then pour it over on top of the meat once he is satisfied with the consistency.  That is another option.  If you don't have coconut water, just use water.

The water of the young coconut also enhances the flavors of this dish - not to be confused with mature coconut, or coconut milk whatsoever.  You can find this young coconut at Whole Foods - you can also find the juice unsweetened in the can at Whole Foods too!  I didn't think I was a fan of that creamy coconut base in some soups, but this clear coconut water is really good to me!  If you have any questions, just email me at thanhrasico@gmail.com.

Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder cut into large, bite - sized chunks
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut water from a young coconut (not the same thing as coconut milk)
  • rice
Marinate the pork the night before, or a couple hours before cooking:
  • 3 minced shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
Directions:
  1. Heat the oil in the pan over medium high heat.  Add the pork and brown all sides, about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add the sugar and continue to stir fry another 3 - 4 minutes. 
  3. When the sugar caramelizes and the pork turns dark, pour in the coconut water and bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the eggs, then continue to simmer another 15 minutes.
  6. The sauce should reduce by half and the meat should be tender.
  7. Serve with rice, spooning the sauce on top.

The girls told me that their economics teacher, Mrs. Byrum, at Baker Elementary read them Sam and the Lucky Money, so they were familiar with the money that some lucky Asian kids get this time of year.  They're also very busy calculating what they can afford for this weekend.  They've been researching the Justice web site quite regularly - budget has been a part of our vocabulary for a long time now.  And I love that they have economics in elementary school!!

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