Caramelised braised pork is one of my favourite dishes. I love the tenderness of the meat, the juicy flavourful sauce and the balance of saltiness, sweetness and richness that this dish brings. It’s one of those dishes that is easy to make, easy to eat and can be kept in the fridge for a long time, so it’s perfect for students like me. Back when I was in college, I used to have classes until 8.30 in the evening for 2 days in a row, so this dish was my go-to dish so that I didn’t have to cook when I got home from class.
There are a lot of variations of caramelised braised pork, it differs from regions to regions, from families to families, and even within one family, every member will have their different ways of making this dish. In this post I will introduce the most basic caramelised braised pork recipe that I’ve learnt and combined from a lot of sources, as well as from my own taste and experience. This recipe is very simple, yet produces a very delicious end result.
Công thức tiếng Việt: Thịt kho & Mẹo kho thịt
Preparation time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 1.5 hours – 2 hours
Servings: 2-3 people
I always use pork belly for this dish, because for me that’s the part of the pork that has the most balance ratio of meat and fat. When you braise the pork belly, the fat will be released into the sauce and makes the whole piece of meat look glistening, helps the meat absorb the seasoning and keeps it from frying out. You can also use the pork butt or legs.
Photo: Pork belly (Source: seriouseats.com)
For the seasoning, I use fish sauce as the main ingredient to create the profound taste and smell, caramelised sugar is also a very important ingredient to give the dish its distinguish colour. Another ingredient I always use for this dish is coconut milk. You don’t often see this ingredient in traditional recipes for braised caramelised pork, however I found that adding 1 tablespoon of coconut milk when marinating the meat gives a very subtle sweetness and richness that really enhance the whole dish.
A. Caramelised sugar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water
B. Marinating the meat
- 500g pork belly
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon caramelised sugar
- 1 tablespoon coconut milk
- Extra fish sauce, sugar, salt and caramelised sugar for seasoning
A. Making caramelised sugar
Put sugar in a non-stick sauce pan, heat on medium heat. Wait until the sugar starts to dissolve, use a spoon and slightly stir to help the sugar dissolve evenly.
3 tablespoons sugar
The sugar water will start to bubble. These bubbles will gradually decrease in size, and at the same time the sugar will turn to an amber colour. When the bubbles become very tiny and the amber colour darkens, quickly and gently pour in the water. Stir to dissolve everything and pour into a bowl to cool.
Note: Tilt the sauce pan at an angle away from you since the hot sugar can splatter.
1/2 cup warm water
The caramelised sugar should have a deep amber colour, and tastes sweet with a hint of bitterness.
B. Marinating and braising the pork
1. Wash the meat, cut it into 3x3cm cubes. Put them all in a pan, fill it with water just so it covers the meat, add a teaspoon of salt. Heat on high heat until the water boils, wait for 1-2 minutes and then discard this water and wash the meat again to get rid of all the foam. This will help the meat to be thoroughly cleaned, and the braising sauce will also be clear.
2. Put the meat in a big sauce pan with all the shallots, salt, fish sauce, sugar, caramelised sugar and coconut milk. Mix them all up and leave for 30’ so the meat can absorb the spices.
3 tablespoon fish sauce; 3 tablespoon sugar; ½ teaspoon pepper; ½ teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon minced shallots; 1 tablespoon caramelised sugar; 1 tablespoon coconut milk
The amount of spices I use here might not work for you, since different brands of fish sauce has different level of saltiness, and we all have different taste too. You can use less spice then me and taste and adjust while cooking.
3. Put the pan of marinated pork on the stove, put on high heat and stir until the marinating sauce boils, pour some hot water in so that it covers 1-2cm higher than the meat. When the fat of the meat turn transparent, reduce the heat (I usually reduce it to 2/6 on electric stove) and simmer meat is nice and soft. Season to your liking and add more caramelised sugar if the colour is too pale.
It usually takes me 1 hour to 1 hour and a half to simmer the pork. You can further reduce the sauce if you want to.
A nice pot of braised caramelised pork should have the meat soft, but not to the point of being overcooked and dry. The meat and the sauce should have an amber colour that is slightly lighter than the caramelised sugar that you made, and should be balanced in sweet and savoury.
Variations and tips
1. You can add more things into the braised pork like hard boiled eggs, white radish, matured coconut meat, etc. These should be added right after you pour in the hot water.
2. There are 2 others ways besides using caramelized sugar to give the amber colour to the dish. The first way is to use coconut water. The plus point of using coconut water is that it will give a very nice amber colour to the dish and the natural sweetness of the water. You only have to marinate the meat with spices (except the sugar) and shallots, put in the pot, pour coconut water so it covers the meat and braise like usual.
Another way is to use Coca-Cola. Marinate the meat like when you use coconut water and then braise. However for 500g of meat you only need around 100ml Coca Cola, since there are a lot of sugar in the drink so if you add too much, the dish will be too sweet and the colour will be too dark as well.
3. If you don’t like fish sauce, you can substitute with soy sauce, and you can also use sweet soy sauce to replace the sugar. You don’t need to make caramelised sugar either, since the colour of the soy sauce is enough. Soy sauce is usually used in vegetarian/vegan braise as well.
Happy cooking! hope you will always be able to make a nice pot of caramelised pork