Kitchen Garden Journal
- Published on Sunday, June 03, 2012, 02:34
- Written by Tim Wilcox
Vietnamese Style Crispy Roast Pork Salad
Last week at the Northampton Saturday Farmers Market I traded a huge bag of produce for an enormous pork butt with Pete from Mockingbird Farm. That thing was a beauty to behold. Pork butt, for those of you who don’t know, is my favorite muscle on the entire animal. Do you know when someone comes up behind you and surprises you with a little shoulder massage just below the neck and it feels so good? Same muscle. Pete’s pigs receive many such massages, and that makes their butts taste extra yummy.
This particular specimen was no exception. But the best part about butts is that they take absolutely no effort whatsoever to prepare. All you need is a crowd of people who love to dine on divine pork. Which we happen to have on our farm crew this year. Yippeee!!! Now that we’re eating a mid-day meal as a family of 11 or 12, every day is like Thanksgiving. And on Wednesdays (my day to cook) you’d better believe there’s going to be a centerpiece.
We do actually have a vegetarian on staff, but we don’t hold it against her, she was born that way. I was a vegetarian, too. For years! My vegetarianism took me from being a food ignoramus and taught me how to cook real meals with real ingredients. So by the time I rediscovered meat (enter Caroline Pam, French chef, love interest), I actually had some kitchen skills to build on and meat cookery opened up a vast new world of new tricks to learn and scientific principles to apply to a piece of food as you cook it. (To celebrate our union, our friend Tony bought us a whole pig and we butchered it together. Awwww. Yes, our wedding registry included such items as meat grinder, sausage stuffer and chest freezer.)
Back to the recipe. I have no idea if this dish is Vietnamese, but I know that Vietnamese people would love it. In the fine tradition of David Chang, whose idiot-proof pork butt roasting method from the Momofuku cookbook literally changed my life, I took the flavors of an Asian cuisine near and dear to my heart and applied them to fun ways to coax flavor and texture out of a piece of humanely raised, supremely delicious pork.
Here’s what I did.
For the pork:
5 lb bone-in pork butt roast
Turbinado or other natural sugar
For the salad:
5 fresh Thai bird chilies, from the freezer, roughly chopped (What? You don’t freeze chilies in September? You really should.)
3-4 stalks spring garlic, thinly sliced at an angle
½ sweet onion or equivalent shallot or scallion, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup fish sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
Rice vinegar, to correct acidity
Cilantro & mint
Crunchy vegetables like carrots, cucumber, radish, etc.
Chopped roasted peanuts
Cooked rice vermicelli or bean thread noodles, at room temperature*
Vietnamese rice paper, large
For the dipping sauce:
Repeat the liquid ingredients and sugar from the salad, then dilute with water by half. Add some minced garlic and chilies.
1. Dump a few heaping spoonfuls each of the salt and sugar onto a plate or other flat surface large enough to accommodate the pork. Roll the pork in the salt-sugar mixture, working it in a bit with your hands. Discard excess that doesn’t stick.
2. Put the butt roast in a cast iron skillet and cover with foil. Place skillet in a 250 degree oven at 10 o’clock at night.
3. Go to bed.
4. Wake up to the most divinely porky smell you can imagine. Take out the pork and let it cool until lunchtime. It’s done.
5. This is the fun part. Heat your oven to 450. Pull the meltingly tender pork into thin shreds and spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle the pork shreds with some of the rendered fat that has accumulated in the skillet and roast until crispy.
6. Prepare the salad ingredients and put them in a large bowl. Add the pork and mix well. Taste for hot, sour, salty and sweet and adjust as needed.
7. Frantically prepare that laundry list of garnishes and set them out on a large table.
8. When your guests (or workers, in my case) arrive, show them the proper method for soaking Vietnamese rice paper and assembling the wrap. Take one sheet of rice paper, dip it in a bowl of tepid water and put it on your plate. By the time you’ve put all of the lettuce and condiments and meat on there, it will be pliable enough to wrap. Place 1 lettuce leaf, a small handful of noodles, herbs, veggies, pork, etc, and then fold up your rice paper to resemble a large…well, let’s not go there.
9. Dip in the sauce and enjoy. It might get a little messy, but remember, eating is a tactile experience. Just try and wash the tractor grease, field dirt and tomato resin off your hands first.
One final note: when indulging in rich, fatty meats, it’s all about proportion. I’m a huge fan of meat, but my favorite way to enjoy it is this: a small quantity of slow cooked meat, preferably at room temperature, served with a large quantity of raw crunchy vegetables, leafy greens and aromatic herbs. Our crew of 11 couldn’t even polish off all that pork.
And for you vegetarians out there, I’m going to be doing some fun Southeast Asian cooking that even you can appreciate this week. This Saturday I traded Paul from New England Wild Edibles for 2 pounds of log-grown shiitakes and they’re slated to become mushroom laab (a very spicy salad from Northeast Thailand) served with sticky rice.
Now, who wants to trade me some limes?
*This is how I do the noodles. Choose rice vermicelli (the skinny, messy looking ones) or bean thread noodles from your local Asian market. I like the bean thread the best because you can buy them in these little portion sized packages. Cook the noodles in boiling water until just fully cooked. Drain them, put them on a plate and cover the plate with plastic wrap to let them steam. The noodles will form into a cake, which you can then slice with a knife into portions that are just the right size for putting in a rice wrapper. For some reason they don’t really stick together, but turn back into noodles when they hit the lettuce. Don't ask me why.
For more on Vietnamese rice paper rolls, see this old post.