This Clay Pot Pork is sometimes called Vietnamese pork or Caramelized Pork. Many recipes use coconut water as the liquid for the sauce.
I first saw the recipe in a 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine. It didn’t have any coconut water or milk and that worked for me because I was having a guest with an aversion to coconut. So the recipe ended up being a hybrid of the Gourmet recipe and various on-line recipes.
Some recipes call for pork shoulder and then they braise the dish for 1 1/2 – 2 1/5 hours. Some recipes call to make the caramel first ie melt the sugar and cook until it turns to caramel before adding the water and the fish sauce. I was afraid the caramel would burn or dry out with a long cook time afterward.
Anyway… I am very pleased with how this dish turned out. It takes a bit of time at the stove to make sure the sauce doesn’t burn but it is worth it! Sugar melts about 320 degrees F and caramelizes at 340 degrees. So… if boiling is 212 degrees when you are caramelizing the sauce it has to be a more vigorous boil than just a simmer.
A medium high burner is supposed to be about 330 degrees but I am sure that must vary from appliance to appliance. So … you need to get your sauce to 340 degrees for it to start turning colour and caramelizing. 340-355 degrees will start getting it to the thicker caramel sauce stage. So – all this to say, after the first gentle simmer at 20 minutes you will want to increase your burner to medium high and even slightly higher for the last 20-25 minutes. As the water evaporates off your sauce will thicken and caramelize and you need to be there for that!
Stop once you have a nice caramel toffy colour. If it starts to get dark brown it is on its way to burning and you’ll end up with a burnt, black sauce.
So… just stay close by the pot during the last 20 minutes so you can monitor and adjust as necessary.
It sounds scary now that I have written it but it really isn’t. Because this is what they call a wet caramelization with the liquid added to the sugar, things don’t happen all that fast.
I garnished mine with green onions trimmed diagonally and sweet but spicy red peppers. Yum… just sayin’…