I know I’ve mentioned it before, but my blog seems to feature very few Vietnamese recipes, despite the fact that I cook Vietnamese at home every second day or so. So in an attempt to rectify the situation and to bring some more balance to this blog, I hope to feature more Vietnamese recipes which are quick, easy and delicious to make at home.
Thankfully, most Vietnamese home-cooking is, in fact, quick, easy and delicious. One dish which my mother used to make frequently on weeknights was pork ribs braised in young coconut juice with freshly ground black pepper. The pork ribs would be chopped into small lengths which could be handled easily with chopsticks, and the salty and peppery sauce was perfect for drizzling over plain, steamed Jasmine rice. When pork ribs were not available, my mother would simply use sliced pork fillet or pork loin, which would require an even shorter cooking time. It was a cheap and cheerful meal and I loved it.
This is a dish which you are unlikely to find on restaurant menus – it is simple, Vietnamese home-cooking, best eaten in the company of those who share the same appreciation for eating messy ribs and licking the sweet and salty sauce from their fingers.
The recipe below comes from The Food of Vietnam, the latest cookbook by Luke Nguyen. What is interesting about his recipe is that the pork ribs are first marinated for a brief period before being deep-fried to give them a lovely, golden colour and to also start the caramelisation process. Once deep-fried, the pork ribs are then braised in some young coconut juice to tenderise the meat and to add sweetness.
Cooking with young coconut juice is common in Vietnamese cooking; it is often used in place of broth or water for a subtle, sweet flavour. Young coconut juice is readily available in most places, but be sure to buy the unsweetened variety for cooking. If, like me, you can only find sweetened young coconut juice where you live (usually sold in cans in the refrigerated drinks section at the Asian grocer), simply halve the amount of sugar in this recipe and strain the juice of any pulp before using.
I often double the recipe below for just my husband and I, and team it with a generous serve of steamed greens on the side and plain rice. The lovely savoury sauce is perfect for drizzling over your vegetables and rice. Make sure you have plenty of paper napkins handy.
The pork ribs will need to be chopped into short lengths to make them quicker to cook and easier to eat, especially if you are eating them Vietnamese-style with chopsticks. Unless you are handy with a meat cleaver, it is best to ask your butcher to do this for you. For pork baby back ribs, I often just ask the butcher to cut a rack of ribs down the middle. For a rack of larger sized pork spare ribs, ask your butcher to cut them into 2 cm to 4 cm lengths (1 inch to 1.5 inches).
As mentioned above, if you are using sweetened young coconut juice, halve the amount of sugar in the recipe. But if you find that the sauce is still too sweet, simply dilute with some water.