When Bogdan and I were dating and shuttling around between St. Catharines, Windsor, and the GTA, one of our favourite things to do was to go for Vietnamese. I think we went for Vietnamese more often than any other food. Of course we both love pho, and since it was always Bogdan’s go-to it gave me the freedom to try new and exciting dishes …knowing that he would always share his pho with me 😜
My explorations didn’t last long though. I ordered the lemongrass grilled pork on a whim once and it became my new go-to. It’s a perfect combination. A thinly sliced bone-in pork chop, rubbed liberally with lemongrass, garlic and salt, then grilled over an open flame and served on white rice with a fried egg and a side of fresh herbs, bean sprouts and nuoc cham dressing. It’s like I can still taste it.
Since moving to Amsterdam we’ve only been for Vietnamese once and it was more fine dining than the unpretentious ceramic tiled dining rooms, linoleum tabletops, and laminated picture menus of our past. No lemongrass pork on the menu either. So a few weeks ago I decided to do what I always do when I have a craving – figure out how to make it at home.
I found a great recipe for Restaurant-Style Grilled Lemongrass Pork (Thit Heo Nuong Xa) by Andrea Nguyen over at Viet World Kitchen. It’s a really good recipe and a great jumping off point for recreating lemongrass grilled porkchops.
The first time we made this pork, we followed the recipe exactly but cooked the pork on the stovetop because our bbq was on the fritz. The second time, we improvised the recipe based on memory but cooked the pork on the grill. Both times we (accidentally) marinated for a full 72 hours (3 whole days in the fridge). Both times it was absolutely perfect – bonus points for flexibility. We ate it with vermicelli noodles, fresh cut carrot, radish, cucumber, herbs and nuoc cham dressing.
You’ll find all the details on adaptations below and the final recipe we used and loved at the bottom.
Pork Both times we made this with 1 kg / 2 lbs of thick cut bone-in pork shoulder steaks – what’s referred to as varkenskarbonade or just karbonade in the Netherlands. It was about 6 large shoulder steaks.
In the original recipe Andrea used thin-cut boneless pork shoulder steak. The pork shoulder steak or pork shoulder chops, as compared to pork loin chops, come from the front part of the shoulder and have a different texture. I like to compare them to poultry dark meat as compared to breast meat. They’re more tender, juicier and more flavourful.
I highly recommend pork shoulder chops if you can find them. You can also use loin chops if that’s what you have – I would suggest tenderizing them with a good pounding in a ziplock bag before marinating. As for bone-in or bone-out – the debate rages on. I like bone-in because the meat closest to the bone is the tastiest. Bone out like Andrea uses is also fine. It’s up to your preference. Since I did do bone-in, I saved all those beautiful bones in the freezer and one day soon I’m going to throw them in a stock pot and make some nice tonkotsu ramen….maybe with homemade egg noodles.
Stovetop vs Grill The first time we made this pork we had an issue with the grill and ended up cooking them on the stovetop. I used a heavy cast-iron grill pan and cooked them over high heat for about 4 minutes per side. They turned out really good though there wasn’t any tasty char on them. The second time we made them we got the bbq to work and cooked them over an open-flame again for about 4 minutes per side. They turned out really good and bonus points for char grilled perfection.
Marinating time In the original recipe Andrea recommends marinating for 1 hour at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the fridge.Both times we made this pork we marinated it for 3 full days. This was mostly accidental. We meant to only marinate for 24 hours, but then by the time the next day rolled around other dinner plans came up and we put off the lemongrass grilled pork. I suspect that the extra marinating time actually helped tenderize and breakdown the meat proteins even further. Both times the cooked pork had a pastrami like texture as if it had been salt cured. It’s a beautiful and delicious outcome especially when combined with grilling.
I think 24 hours of marinating would be more than sufficient to impart a lot of flavour and tenderization, but I’m not sure if it would have quite the same tenderizing and pastrami-ing effect that a 3 day marinate imparts. Will report back when I know.
Overall this recipe is really simple and delivers a lot on flavour and presentation. The marinade comes together in about 5 minutes and after a quick massage with it the pork goes in the fridge and then onto the grill. It’s simple enough for a midweek meal but also impressive enough for a weekend bbq. It can also be prepared in advanced of an event and cooked on the day of.
While we had this pork in vermicelli bowls both times it’s also perfect for the classic combination with sticky rice, a fried egg, fresh herbs and nuoc cham. I really highly recommend it either way. A delicious, tasty and easy recipe that delivers a ton on flavour.
Until next time,
This restaurant style lemongrass grilled pork is simple to prepare and super tasty with sticky rice or in a vermicelli bowl. It’s easy enough to prepare on a weeknight but impressive enough for a weekend bbq.
- 1 kg / 2 lbs bone in pork shoulder steaks
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 birds eye chili
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Prepare the marinade. Trim and thinly slice the lemongrass stalks. Dice up the garlic and birds eye chili. Pound the garlic, lemongrass and chili together in a mortar or if you don’t have one then dice them finely with a sharp knife. Combine the garlic, lemongrass and chili with the rest of the marinade ingredients and mix well.
- Massage the pork. Pour the marinade over the pork and use your hands to gently rub and massage the pork with the marinade, spreading it into every space and making sure it’s fully covered.
- Wait. Marinate covered in the fridge for up to 72 hours.
- Grill. Grill the pork over an open flame for about 4 minutes per side or until golden and sizzling.
- Category: BBQ
- Method: Grill or Stovetop
- Cuisine: Vietnamese