By Thao Uyen
Hi guys, how have you been? I have been running left and right to prepare for the biggest Vietnamese celebration of the year: TET. For those of you who don't know, TET is the Vietnamese lunar new year. In some Asian countries where the people still use the Lunar calendar (along with the Gregorian calendar), this occasion is celebrated with events enriched with traditions. Of course no two countries have the same traditions, but the principle of the Lunar new year is for families to be reunited, and also to pay respect to the elders in the family.
TET is fast approaching. In fact, it will begin next Saturday and will last at least for 1 week. Usually Vietnamese consider that TET lasts until the Lunar 10th of January. Last year I spoke about TET and its traditions (you can read about it here). This year I want to present to you a traditional TET dish that every household in Southern Vietnam has for this occasion: braised eggs and pork belly.
The Vietnamese name for this dish is 'thit kho trung' (braised meat and egg) or 'thit kho tau'. The 'tau' word means the light taste resulted from mixing sweetness and saltiness. So just from the name, you can guess the taste of this dish: although this is a braised dish, the taste should be light, somewhere between sweet and salty. The reason for this is that Vietnamese celebrate TET for days on end and so during the first 3 TET days, there will be no market, no restaurant. The first TET days, people only rely on home-cooked dishes. This braised egg and pork belly dish can last a long time and since its taste is light and delicate in the beginning, after enduring being heated and reheated several times, the sauce will be reduced and the pork belly and eggs will become more salty overtime.
The eggs are hard boiled, peeled and cooked whole meaning a wholesome year to come. The pork part being used for this dish is pork belly with fat and skin, so that they can help preserve the dish, and also to keep the meat tender despite being cooked and reheated lots of time. The secret ingredient for this dish is coconut juice. This dish originated from the South of Vietnam where you can find coconut everywhere. For me it's like going to the supermarket in France and see big shelves of apples throughout the year. Coconut juice not only adds a delicate sweetness to the pork belly but also plays a big part in the beautiful caramel color of the finished dish.
As any traditional braised dish, this braised eggs and pork belly dish must be cooked for a long time. The pork belly is cut into big cubes and that's why the cooking time is long. It can last up to 2 to 3 hours. Since my work schedule doesn't allow me time to hover over the pot for this amount of time, I decide to present to you my revisited braised eggs and pork belly dish, cooked in pressure cooker or Instant Pot. This way of cooking still has a lot of steps though, and took me 2 hours from preparation to finished dish (without counting the marinating time). I recommend marinating the pork belly at least 2 hours before cooking for a successful dish. If you still decide to cook this dish despite my daunting description then you're really brave and I'd like to hear from you about how it turns out, really. So without further ado, let's dive in!
Ingredients: (6 servings)
1,2 kg pork belly, cut into big cubes of 5x5x5cm
8 hard boiled eggs
520 ml coconut juice
2 ½ tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 big shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
500 ml water
4 spicy chilies (optional)
1. Blanch and clean the pork: Boil water in a pot on high heat to blanch the pork cubes. Blanch them for 2 minutes then clean them under cold water to wash off the impurities. While waiting for the next step put them in a strainer.
2. Make the marinade with caramel color: Put a pan on medium heat, add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and spread 1 tbsp of brown sugar into a thin layer in the pan. Wait until the sugar melts and turns into caramel liquid then reduce the heat. When the caramel starts to bubble, turn off the heat completely. Add in 2 tbsp of fish sauce (be careful of the heated oil). When the oil no longer bubbling, turn on the heat again to high, add 520 ml of coconut juice and stir to help dissolve the caramel. When all the caramel is dissolved, turn off the heat and put this marinade into a pot or a big bowl. Add the cleaned pork cubes, oyster sauce, black pepper and chilies (optional) into this bowl and let marinade for at least 2 hours (turn the cubes around from time to time so they get evenly caramel colored). At this time the marinade color is like that of fish sauce.
3. Boil the eggs and peel
4. Firm up the pork skin and add beautiful color: In a pan add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and 1 tbsp of brown sugar. Put it on medium heat until the sugar starts to bubble then turn off the heat. Add minced shallot and garlic and stir until they’re fragrant. Put the pork cubes in the pan without the marinade, skin downed. (At this time, add the boiled eggs in the marinade to dye them with golden brown color). Turn on the heat again to medium. The sugar turns to caramel color and starts to become saucy liquid with the help of added shallot and garlic. If the pork skin starts to crackle, add a dash of the marinade. Keep the liquid to a minimum so that the color of the sauce is rich. Turn the pork cubes from time to time for them to be colored evenly. Add a dash of marinade from time to time if needed. After 8 minutes or until the cubes have a golden brown color, take them out of the pan and transfer to the Instant Pot or pressure cooker.
5. Add color to the eggs: Add the eggs and all the marinade into the pan with left-over sauce. Boil this mixture to take off the foam then turn off the heat.
6. Braise the pork cubes and eggs in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker: Transfer the pork belly cubes into the pressure cooker, skin up. Add the eggs into spaces between the cubes. Strain the boiled marinade sauce to take out the minced shallot, garlic and chilies. Put the strained marinade into the pressure cooker/Instant Pot. The liquid in the pot should cover everything so add in water as much as needed. I added 500 ml of water for this dish. Program the pressure cooker/Instant Pot to cook meat in 10 minutes, then let the pot cool down by itself without turning the valve to venting mode. This should take about 25-40 minutes. By now the dish is done but if you want more brown caramel color on the meat and eggs, turn the heat on again without closing the lid and let the sauce reduce by itself. As the liquid is reduced, the color will be richer.
Suggestion: Serve the braised eggs and pork belly hot with a bit of sauce to eat with rice and fresh herbs/cucumber. The cooked chilies that are strained can be smashed in the sauce for added heat.
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!