Vietnamese Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu)

Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork in Coconut Water)This venerable Vietnamese classic is traditionally made to celebrate Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but is popular all year round. Packed full of flavour, this sweet and tender braise of pork is simmered in coconut water and is a firm favourite throughout Việt Nam, especially in the South.

The first time I encountered this dish was in a restaurant in Hồ Chí Minh City. My uncle, who was working in Việt Nam at the time, took us out for a lavish Vietnamese dinner and this dish was the undisputed star of the meal. After simmering away for hours in its delicious coconut broth, the pork was achingly tender and sweet, but the real revelation was the generous layer of fat. Soft and rich, yet surprisingly light on the tongue – the fat had been transformed into the true master-stroke of the entire dish. This was pork fat in all its gelatinous glory!

Whilst I’ve always made this dish with pork belly, in truth you can actually use any number of cuts of pork, as long as the meat isn’t too lean. Personally, though, I prefer sticking with pork belly for this dish as it doesn’t dry out from the extended cooking time and the fat imparts a wonderful flavour into the broth.

Traditionally eaten with rice and often accompanied with a simple daikon & carrot pickle (Đồ Chua), I also love to pair this dish with some water spinach stir-fried with garlic.

Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork in Coconut Water): Serves 4

  • 800g pork belly, cut into 4-inch cubes
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 3 tbsp. Nước Màu (Vietnamese Caramel Sauce)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, minced
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 tbsp. palm sugar
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 200ml water
  • 1 can coconut water (400ml)
  • 4 green onion, cut into 3cm lengths

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the caramel sauce (Nước Màu) and fish sauce until combined. Add the pork and mix thoroughly. Marinate for a couple of hours
  2. In a large pot heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic, shallots and lemon grass – fry for about 30 seconds
  3. Add the marinated pork to the pot, reserving any residual juices. Fry the meat until lightly browned on all side. Add the reserved marinade juices
  4. Add the star anise, palm sugar, pepper, water and coconut juice to the pot
  5. Bring everything to a rapid boil and cook for 10 minutes
  6. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook gently for about 1.5 hours (possibly slightly longer)
  7. Once the meat is fork-tender, add the shelled boiled eggs and continue cooking (uncovered) for another 15 minutes
  8. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary
  9. Just before serving, remove the eggs from the broth and slice them in half. Return the eggs to the pot along with the lengths of spring onion and simmer for another 5 minutes
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