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 ½ - 2 ⅕ 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'...
- 2 ½ lbs pork loin roast cut into 1" cubes
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup brown sugar packed
- 3 Tbsps Asian Fish sauce preferable Vietnamese nuoc mam
- 2 green onions + more for garnish
- 2 tsps black pepper
- 4 shallots thinly sliced vertically
- 2 Tbsps vegetable oil
- ¾ cup water
- 2 Tbsps soy sauce
- 2 Tbsps rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- green onion optional
- red chile pepper optional
- Mix garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce and green onion. Stir into pork to mix evenly. Allow to sit 20 minutes.
- Heat 2 Tbsps veg oil in dutch oven or large pot on medium high heat. Sear pork on all sides and transfer to a separate dish.
- Add shallots and cook 2 minutes. Return pork to the pot.
- Mix the water, soya sauce and rice vinegar and add to the pot.
- Bring pot to a simmer,uncovered. Simmer gently about 20 minutes without stirring. Then increase the meat to medium high and allow sauce to caramelize. Watch very carefully, stirring occasionally so the sugar doesn't burn. Cook another 20-25 minutes.
- Serve over plain rice when sauce has thickened and turned golden brown. Garnish with more sliced green onion and red chile pepper slivers if desired.