Wednesday, November 26, 2008

CSA week one: Suon Nuong Xa

a.k.a. Grilled Lemongrass Pork Tenderloin Skewers

When I posted about the CSA box this week I wrote that lemongrass meant Thai cooking but when I actually looked around for recipes I found Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian recipes using it too. Since it's going to take four recipes to use up all the lemongrass I'm going to make a point of cooking recipes from four different cuisines.

First up is Vietnamese. This recipe is from Corinne Trang's cookbook Authentic Vietnamese Cooking via Sara Moulton's show Sara's Secrets. It's for a dish you'll recognize--those skewers of pork served over a big bowl of rice noodles in every Vietnamese restaurant on the planet (excepting banh mi stands, of course. Can you get banh mi anywhere in Miami? I think I'd actually drive some distance through Miami traffic to get some).

I didn't make any big changes to the recipe so here it is straight from the Food Network website:

Prep Time: 30 min
Inactive Prep Time: 1 min
Cook Time: 20 min

Level: Intermediate

Serves: 4 servings

1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves and tops removed, root ends trimmed, and stalks finely grated
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound pork tenderloin, thinly sliced
16 bamboo skewers, soaked for 20 minutes and drained
1 recipe Rice Vermicelli: Bun Thit
1/2 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
Nuoc cham, as needed, recipe follows

Stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and oil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the lemongrass, shallot, garlic and pork and mix to coat the meat evenly. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Slide 2 to 4 slices of pork onto each skewer so the meat is flat with the skewer going through the slices several times. Grill over a barbecue (make sure that the flames have subsided and the coals are red with white ashes). Alternatively, heat a well-oiled grill pan or non-stick skillet over high heat and, working in batches, cook the skewers until the edges crisp, about 1 minute per side. Remove the skewers from the grilled pork.

Divide the grilled pork among the bowls of rice vermicelli. Sprinkle peanuts and drizzle nuoc cham over each serving. Serve immediately.

Fish Dipping Sauce: Nuoc Cham

5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup lime or lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 or more bird's eye or Thai chiles, seeded and minced
1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced, and rinsed (optional)

Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, chile, and shallot, and let stand for 30 minutes before serving.

Yield: 2 cups Preparation Time: 5 minutes Cooking Time: 5 minutes Non-Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Recipe courtesy Corinne Trang, Authentic Vietnamese Cooking, Simon & Schuster, 1999

Personally, I don't particularly like rice vermicelli (There's not a whole lot there to dislike there either, but I don't think it adds anything much to a meal.) so I served the skewers over a bowl of mizuna and a big scoop of white rice instead. The picture's harder to parse than I expected. Those are wedges of tomato on the left hand side and the fiddly bits on the pork over on the right are sprinklings of ground peanuts.

I also added dollops of hoisin sauce and sambal chili garlic sauce to complete the trio of sauces you need for a proper Vietnamese meal. Actually, I thought the hoisin and sambal were better accompaniments than the nuoc cham. I'm as big a nuoc cham fan as much as the next guy, but it was the weakest complement to the dish.

The marinade used most of the same ingredients so the nuoc cham just watered down the intense flavors of the pork which actually was best--hot, tender and juicy, bursting with complex pungent and herbal flavors--right out of the pan. The couple minutes it took for me to fix up the bowl all pretty were much to its detriment. On the other hand, the sambal and hoisin worked with it nicely and lots of other things will benefit from being dipped in the leftover nuoc cham.

Oh, and I should say something about grating the lemongrass. I only had to remove one outer leaf and a little wedge of woody stem out of the bottom before running it through my microplane grater. It was surprisingly easy and released lots of flavor that you could taste even through the fish sauce and pork fat in the final dish. Beats crushing it with a cleaver and fishing it out later by a long shot. That's the benefit of having fresh local ingredients.

1 comment:

kat said...

Interesting dish. I'm with you in thinking of Thai for lemongrass though that said I did use it in Indonesian curry