Vietnamese Coconut Water Pork is a great sticky-sweet dish of pork belly slow braised and caramelized in Coconut Water, Sugar and Fish Sauce.
Vietnamese cuisine has two very popular pork dishes which are very similar. One is known as ‘Thịt kho tàu’, or ‘Caramelized Pork’ in English, and the other is just simply referred to as ‘Pork braised in Coconut Water’.
In both of these dishes, Fish sauce and caramelized sugar syrup are essential to the basic flavor, but Thit Kho To is generally sweeter, may include hard-boiled eggs, and often doesn’t use Coconut Water at all. Naturally, that particular ingredient is an absolute requirement for today’s recipe…
Choosing the Meat for Coconut Water Pork
I have chosen pork belly for this recipe but you can use a different cut if you prefer. Some recipes call for tenderloin but this is bit lean and can end up being dry. For a happy medium, a cut from the shoulder with a little fat would be a good substitute.
In the above picture you can see how I have sliced the meat and you can follow this or else cut it into slightly larger chunks if you prefer. Either way, just try and keep the pieces as uniformly shaped as possible.
How to Make Thit Kho Tau
You first need to blanch the pork in boiling salted water for a minute or two until no pink remains, and then wash it thoroughly in cold water to cool it down and remove any ‘bits’ or scum.
Afterwards, mix the blanched pork pieces with garlic paste, sugar, fish sauce and pepper, and marinate it in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, or, preferably, overnight.
When you are ready to cook, heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan over moderate to high heat and then sauté the pork until it turns golden. Remove it to a bowl for the moment and drain off all the fat that has been thrown off except for a tablespoon or two.
Now add the remaining sugar to the pan and stir until it melts and begins to darken. If use you use a fresh pan and oil the sugar will be merely become golden but, if you proceed with the pork fat, you will get a much more brownish color due to the fragments of fried meat that get scraped up from the bottom.
The white bits you can see in the mix are small clumps of sugar that have not yet dissolved. Make sure they have all melted before you proceed further.
Add the pork back to the pan along with the garlic and onion, stir until everything is coated with the caramelized sugar, then, add the fish sauce and continue stirring until the onion is softened and opaque. At this point, you may note that some of the sugar clumps and starts to harden but, don’t worry, it will dissolve again during the braising.
Finally, add the coconut water and allow it to come to a low boil. Turn the heat down just a little at that point, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, leaving a thick, sticky sauce.
Your Recipe Card:
Vietnamese Coconut Water Pork
- 1 lb Pork Belly;
- 1 medium Onion sliced very thinly into half-rings;
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. Sugar;
- 6 tbsp. Fish Sauce
- 1 cup Coconut Water;
- 1 ½ tsp. Garlic Paste;
- 3 large Garlic cloves chopped coarsely;
- 1 pinch freshly ground Pepper;
- Slice the Pork Belly into small chunks or strips, then blanch in salted boiling water for a minute or so until no pink remains. Rinse well in cold water to remove any scum or other residue.
- Mix the pork pieces with the garlic paste, the extra 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce and the pepper, and marinate it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
- When ready to continue, brown the pork in a little oil over moderate heat. Remove it to a bowl for the moment and drain off all but a tablespoon or so of the fat from the pan.
- Add the remaining sugar to the pan and stir in the oil until it melts and starts to darken.
- Add the pork back to the pan along with the garlic and onion and stir until everything is coated with the caramelized sugar.
- Add the fish sauce and continue stirring until the onion is softened and opaque.
- Finally, add the coconut water and allow it to come to a low boil, Turn the heat down just a little and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has almost completely evaporated leaving a thick sauce.
- Serve Hot.
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