Tue Mar 15, 2011
Next month I'm going to attempt to climb the highest peak in Texas (contrary to popular belief, Texas is not flat, it actually stretches up to the sky in the area of 8,700 feet). In theory, I should be able to achieve this, but my chance of failure is pretty high in my current physical state. It's high time I start to put some real action behind my goal to lose a little and shape-up. I'm writing this off of a weekend that had me biking 40 miles, a week where I forced myself to eat *gasp* 2 salads and walk a minimum of 15 miles. Part of this plan was not really to eat stuff better for me, but exercise portion control while enjoying the same high quality of flavor I'm used to. A perfect example is this beautiful bowl of Vietnamese pork resting atop a pile of vermicelli.
When I say I'm not sacrificing flavor, I mean it—Vietnamese pork is insanely delicious. Sliced pork shoulder is marinated in a mixture of garlic, fish sauce, and sugar to embed the meat in and out with great taste. The thin pieces of pork brown quickly over the grill and are excellent in their own right, but with accompaniments, it gets even better.
First is a bed of vermicelli—thin rice noodles found in a lot of Asian dishes. The noodles themselves don't have much going on, which makes them such a great base because they soak up some of the flavor of the pork and the nuoc cham added at the end.
Second is lettuce and mint, which adds a real freshness to the whole thing that would otherwise be missing. Besides, I consider anything with green in it to be pretty healthy...Shamrock shake anyone?
Now for the portion control side of things, I could easily sit and devour this entire plate of tasty, tasty swine, but if I put just a few pieces over the noodles and top with lettuce and mint, that will be all that I eat. Finished bowl, finished meal, and I avoid the nastiness of overeating I tend to suffer from when food is just sitting around open form (think a rack of ribs laying on a cutting board).
Put all together and given the final topping of nuoc cham, this is really a dish that had it all. The cool noodles played off the warm pork, the lettuce added a crunch, while the mint tossed some herbal essence into the mix. A side note to its awesomeness, when I was finished the bowl, I didn't feel like I ate any more than I should have, and couldn't have asked for something with more great flavors than this had. Only problem now, I'm about to embark on a two-day barbecue tour of NYC, and there's not a chance in hell I'm holding myself back on that. Bring on the 'cue!
Vietnamese Pork with Vermicelli
Adapted from Une-deux Senses
For the marinade
8 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 pounds of pork shoulder
1 package of rice vermicelli
1 head of butter lettuce, torn into small pieces
1 bunch of mint
For the sauce (nuoc cham)
1/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 to 2 teaspoons sriracha
1. Place pork in the freezer until it firms slightly, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove the pork from the freezer, thinly slice and place in a large ziploc bag.
2. In a small bowl, mix garlic, fish sauce, sugar and black pepper together to make the marinade. Pour marinade into the bag with the pork and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for one hour to overnight.
3. To make the sauce, whisk together sugar, lemon juice, fish sauce, water, garlic, carrot, and sriracha in a small bowl. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
4. Right before grilling, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the vermicelli noodles and cook until tender, about 2 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, set aside.
5. Remove the pork from the fridge. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill pork immediately over the hot fire until cooked through and charred well on both sides, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove pork to a plate.
6. To assemble, place noodles in bowl or on a plate, then top with the grilled pork, lettuce and mint. Drizzle with the sauce and serve.