In my twenties, I spent five years in Upstate New York. During those years, one of my favorite restaurants is a family own Vietnamese restaurant in the college town simply named Vietnam Restaurant. It’s not the cheapest place, there’s always “Chinese” restaurant for that, but the food is simply marvelous. My favorite among the menu is vermicelli bowl, especially the ones that come with this Vietnamese skewered pork. As it turns out, it is super easy to recreate this dish at home!
Charcoal grill? Stovetop? Oven?
Let’s not kid ourselves here. The best way to make these babies is by charcoal grilling. But since it’s winter, and it’s crazy cold (-20 Celsius cold!), I make this in my oven instead.
If you have a grill pan, you can cook these on stove top too. I’ll just assume you are willing to entertain me and you are going to use your oven, yes? But if you want to go ahead and do the charcoal grilling thing, feel free to do so.
Marinating is key
This recipe is so stupid simple, I don’t think anyone can botch it. Just need to marinate the thinly sliced pork for at least 2 hours, then thread into bamboo skewers, and cook with your preferred cooking method.
Though it is possible to get good result with only 2 hours of marinating, I highly suggest sticking the whole thing in the fridge overnight. Your patience will be rewarded.
Also, it is almost a guarantee that there will be leftover marinating sauce once you thread all the pork with the bamboo skewers. Those are really good as basting sauce, so don’t throw it away.
Grilling is one of the best ways to enjoy pork chops, and this Vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork chop is one of my favorite pork chops recipes.
The combination of lemongrass, coconut palm sugar, and fish sauce is undeniably good. Every bite of the grilled pork is bursting with flavors and simply so satisfying. And when paired with some homemade nuoc cham (Vietnamese chili sauce), it is not difficult to see why this one of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes ever.
Ingredients for Vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork chops
We will need thinly sliced pork chops, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, coconut palm sugar, fish sauce, oil, ground white pepper, and salt.
Thinly sliced pork chops
My neighborhood grocery mostly stocks regular thick-cut pork chops, with an average thickness of around 1-inch. These 1-inch thick pork chops are simply too thick for our purpose, so I usually cut each slab into three thin slices.
If you need to do this as well, I highly suggest partially freezing the pork first. A quick 30 minute freezing time is usually enough to harden the pork and help with getting that even slices.
I use fresh lemongrass stalks in this recipe. I usually buy them by the dozen, then clean and freeze them by the whole stalks. They can last for months in the freezer, so I almost never run out of them.
If your market doesn’t sell fresh lemongrass, you can also use ground/pureed lemongrass, usually sold in the frozen section. I usually use 1 tablespoon of frozen ground lemongrass per fresh lemongrass stalk.
If you really can’t find lemongrass, the closest substitute is fresh lemon zest. I suggest zest of one lemon per lemongrass stalk.
Either smaller sized Asian/Chinese shallot or regular French shallot is fine. It is best to go with weight measurement, but it should be around 3 Asian/Chinese shallots, or 1 regular French shallot for this recipe.
Coconut palm sugar
My favorite coconut palm sugar is either Indonesian palm sugar (Indonesian: gula Jawa) or Malaysian gula Melaka. These usually come in a big block and needs to be chopped into smaller pieces. Lately, I have also spotted Indonesian palm sugar sold in granulated form, which is what I am using for this recipe.
You can also use Thai palm sugar, though I am not a big fan of the pale color. Another good choice is coconut palm sugar that is now very commonly found in mainstream grocery stores.
Preparing and grilling the pork
1. Prepare the marinating sauce
In a food processor, puree lemongrass (white part only), shallot, and garlic into a coarse paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl, stir in coconut palm sugar, fish sauce, oil, ground white pepper, and salt.
2. Marinate the pork chops
Add in the thinly sliced pork into the bowl of marinating sauce making sure to coat each slice of pork really well.
Set the pork aside in the fridge to marinate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Remember to return to room temperature prior to grilling.
3. Grilling the pork chops
Heat a cast-iron grill pan on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. You can check if the pan is ready by flicking a few drops of water on to the grill pan. If the water evaporates quickly, it’s ready. Also, you don’t want the pan to be too hot, meaning you shouldn’t see smoke rising from the pan.
Dip a brush/paper towel in oil and rub the surface of the preheated grill pan to prevent food from sticking to the pan, then start placing the marinated pork onto the hot surface.
Since we have ensured to use thinly sliced pork chops, we should only need slightly under 2 minutes per side to fully cook the pork.
Prepare nuoc cham (Vietnamese chili sauce)
Like most steak or any piece of grilled meat, it is best to rest these grilled pork chops for 10 minutes prior to cutting or serving.
While the freshly grilled pork is resting, let’s prepare this homemade nuoc cham that goes perfectly with the pork.
To make nuoc cham, we will need sugar, lime/lemon, fish sauce, drinking water, birds-eye chilies, and garlic.
Mince the garlic and thinly slice the chilies, then mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
How to serve Vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork chops
There are many ways to serve these pork chops. I usually serve these with steamed white rice, or as topping for Vietnamese rice noodles bowl.
If you are more of a sandwich person, you may have spotted these stuffed in your favorite Bahn mi sandwich too.
Another of my favorites is to use these as stuffing in Vietnamese rice paper rolls (spring rolls).
Whichever way you want to serve the grilled pork chops, be sure to also include the nuoc cham. The sauce is great with all the above options.