Thịt kho tàu, literally Chinese braised pork, is one of the most common Vietnamese dish, to be found anywhere from military camps to fancy restaurants, anytime from family diners to new year holidays. While originated from southeastern China, over the years it adopted local ingredients such as fish sauce and coconut flesh and probably does not taste the same.
Due to time constraints, home cooks usually relies on fattier cuts such as the belly to maintain the juiciness. The downside is that the excess fat can quickly tell the liver to tune down the appetite after a few meals. This put me in an awkward position, since I was conditioned to feel wrong about braising a serving size of anything (I was living alone when typing this).
Though, as said three sentences ago, leaner cuts can be as tender when cooked longer. This is where slow cookers come to the rescue: they maintain temperature between 80 and 100°C and after eight hours even the toughest cuts will just fall apart. The best part? No supervision needed. Water doesn't even boil at that temperature, so accidentally burning food is never a worry.
For the ease of maintenance, I'd recommend slow cookers whose pot and lid can be taken out for cleaning. The pot should also be relatively large (3L or more) if you want to make other vegetable-rich stews.
As a big fan of Chef Jean-Pierre, I eyeball the amount of pretty much all ingredients here. The amount of pork and eggs should be enough to at least fill the bottom of the pot. I prefer quail eggs for their bite size and leaner cuts of pork but with some intramuscular fat and tendons. Hocks, hams and shoulders are all good and cheap candidates. Leave the skin on, the gelatine helps thicken the sauce. I like equal amount of eggs and meat.
For seasoning, you'll need fish sauce, sugar, whole black pepper, and optionally shallot, garlic and hard coconut meat.
Boil the eggs and peel them. Layer them in the pot. Peel and slice one or two cloves of garlic and sprinkle them in there. If you have coconut meat, julienne and throw it in as well.
Cut the pork into bite-size dice. Place the skin facing up or the side of the pot. You want (some of it) to be drier for texture variety. Peel a few cloves of shallot and embed them between the dice of pork.
Pour a very thin layer of sugar on a sauce pan and heat it up at medium low to make some dark caramel (too low you'll just get liquid sugar and too high you'll burn it faster than the blue hedgehog). Soon as it's bubbling, carefully pour in some water. The amount should be able to almost cover the meat and eggs in the pot.
While waiting the caramel to dissolve, add fish sauce to taste, and throw in a generous number of peppercorns. Transfer the sauce to the pot, making sure the eggs are fully covered (they can be really chewy when dry: another reason to favor the quail ones).
Turn the slow cooker on low and cook for around eight hours. Tastes amazing either hot or cold, best served with boiled or pickled vegetables and any kind of starch, commonly rice or sweet potatoes but you can try bread, potatoes, or even short pasta if you're feeling adventurous.
|||My ole frens from USTH absolutely dug it during military training!|
|||Okay, maybe I lied about the digging part.|
|||Or 0.12245589 diesel tank in freedom units.|
|||Anywhere between the size of a matchstick and a chopstick is good.|
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