05/23/2024

Transform economical pork shoulder into a culinary delight with this remarkable recipe! The Vietnamese lemongrass marinade imparts exquisite flavors, while a hint of baking soda works its magic, tenderizing the pork steaks to perfection, akin to premium chops. Indulge in the essence of Vietnamese street-food with this sensational dish!

Flavorful Lemongrass Pork Vietnamese Style

I’ve been eager to recreate the widely available chargrilled lemongrass marinated pork found on the streets of Vietnam for years, but it always turned out dry. Finally, I’ve discovered the secret to keeping it juicy, so I couldn’t resist sharing the recipe immediately! 

Throughout Vietnam, you can find various versions of lemongrass pork served in different ways. Whether it’s on rice, in soups, wrapped in rice paper rolls, or even in Banh Mi sandwiches, they are all delicious. However, my personal favorite is the popular Vietnamese noodle bowl salad known as bun thit nuong. It features thin rice noodles topped with this flavorful pork, pickled vegetables, lettuce, a sprinkle of peanuts, a squeeze of lime, and served with nuoc cham, the sauce that accompanies “everything” in Vietnam.

I decided to share the pork noodle bowl recipe separately because I believe the marinated pork deserves its own spotlight! It’s definitely worthy of your attention.

Here’s a photo of the pork rice noodle bowls. I captured this image in Vietnam when I purchased the dish from a street vendor in Saigon and brought it back to my hotel to photograph:

Experience the Magic of Vietnamese Pork in Your Life!

  • Excellent value: This recipe uses affordable pork shoulder that is tenderized to achieve the juiciness of premium pork chops.
  • Flavour plus value: The thinly sliced and pounded meat maximizes flavor penetration and allows you to make the most out of less meat.
  • Easy and unique: This dish offers something different yet incredibly easy to make, using ingredients readily available at local shops.
  • Versatile: Serve it at your next BBQ with coconut rice and Asian slaw, or save it for a Friday night to create delightful Vietnamese noodle bowls.
  • High deliciousness factor with minimal effort: Enjoy the exceptionally delicious results with relatively little time and effort required.

Must-Have Ingredients

  • Pork Shoulder – Typically an economical and tough cut, we’re taking a different approach. Sliced thinly and marinated with baking soda to tenderize, it cooks up tender like an expensive pork chop.
  • Baking Soda – The secret to tenderizing the pork shoulder.
  • Lemongrass – Essential for authentic and delightful Vietnamese flavor.
  • Limes – Adds tang, a favorite in Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Sugar – Brings sweetness and caramelization.
  • Soy Sauce and Fish Sauce – Provides the perfect balance of saltiness. Using both ensures a complexity of flavor.
  • Garlic – A generous amount for aromatic goodness.
  • Oil – Adds volume to the marinade, allowing for proper flavor infusion. (Initially, adjusting the other ingredients wasn’t enough, as the pork ended up too salty).

Crafting Vietnamese Lemongrass Marinated Pork

The crucial step in this recipe is to slice the pork as thinly as possible and pound it. This serves several purposes:

  • Tenderizing the meat from the beginning.
  • Opening up the fibers to ensure thorough marinade penetration.
  • Increasing the surface area and flattening the pork, resulting in better charred flavors, reminiscent of authentic street-food.
  • Allowing us to use economical pork shoulder instead of expensive pork tenderloin or chops.
  1. Slice the pork shoulder into approximately eight thin pieces, which will make pounding easier. You can achieve this by cutting the pork at a 45-degree angle, or simply cutting straight down if the shape allows.

PRO TIP: For evenly sized pieces without using a scale, divide the pork shoulder in half, then each half in half again, resulting in eight pieces.

  1. Pound the pork to a thickness of about 5mm or 0.2 inches using a meat mallet (the jagged side) or a rolling pin. Place the pork between go-between or freezer bags to protect the meat while pounding. (Go-between is a purpose-made plastic sheet that can be found alongside cling wrap and is also handy for separating foods in the freezer to prevent sticking.)
  2. Post pounding, you should have thin pork slices.
  3. Marinade Next, prepare the marinade by combining the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Coat porkCoat the pork by adding it to the marinade and using tongs to ensure it is well coated.
  5. Marinate 24 hours- Transfer the coated pork to a ziplock bag for marinating. Let it marinate for 24 hours.

Why mix the marinade separately first? This step ensures the bi-carb (baking soda) is evenly distributed across a larger surface area. It guarantees a consistent result without the need to dirty an extra bowl unnecessarily.

Why use a ziplock bag? Using a ziplock bag allows the meat to be fully coated with a relatively small amount of marinade. If you prefer to use a container, choose a small one that fits the meat snugly, and toss the pork once or twice during the marinating time

  1. High Heat Cooking: Cook the thinly sliced pork for approximately 1 1/2 minutes on a hot cast iron skillet or on a high-heat BBQ. Flip the pork and cook the other side for 1 minute. Due to its thinness, the cooking time is super quick.
  2. Aim for a Nice Char: The sugar in the marinade causes the pork to char quickly, resulting in that desirable authentic chargrilled flavor.

Still Tender! Despite the high heat cooking for a total of 2 1/2 minutes, you might expect the thin pork to be overcooked, dry, and tough, especially since the tough pork shoulder hasn’t been slow-cooked as usual. However, that’s not the case! The inside of the pork remains juicy and surprisingly tender, thanks to the addition of baking soda (refer to the ingredients section for more details).

NOTE: When using the baking soda method for tenderizing meat, it may remain pink inside even when cooked to well done. This is a natural occurrence and applies to beef as well. 

As mentioned earlier, I will be sharing the recipe for Vietnamese Pork Noodle Bowls on Friday (UPDATE: Here it is!). However, don’t limit yourself to just noodle bowls! Consider serving the marinated pork with coconut rice, Vietnamese red fried rice, or plain jasmine rice accompanied by a side salad. Here are some suggestions:

  • Vietnamese Chicken Salad (without the chicken)
  • Asian Slaw
  • Chang’s Crispy Noodle Cabbage Salad
  • Asian Side Salad
  • Steamed vegetables or leafy greens drizzled with Asian Sesame Dressing

And before I wrap up, let’s take another moment to appreciate the delicious pork noodle bowl:

It’s absolutely delicious! I absolutely love the combination of crisp fresh vegetables and herbs with the flavorful marinated lemongrass pork, all topped with the mouthwatering nuoc cham, the Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce that accompanies everything.

What do you think? Have I managed to convince you to give this Vietnamese pork a try? I truly hope so! Even if just to experience the magic of the marinade and how it transforms pork shoulder steaks into tender delights. Give it a try!

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