This recipe borders on being a sort of Vietnamese taco or lettuce wrap, if you will. We found it on Milk Street whose staff, while in Vietnam, learned to make grilled lemon grass pork, or thịt nướng, as part of the dish called bún thịt nướng. It’s a salad that combines slender rice noodles with grilled pork, pickled and fresh vegetables, tons of herbs and a savory-sweet sauce (nước chấm).
To simplify, Milk Street focused on the pork along with the pickles and sauce, and accompaniments that are perfect complements to the rich, smoky pork. If you must choose between making either the sauce or pickles, opt for the former. The pork for thịt nướng is not always skewered, but doing so makes it easier to manage the thinly sliced meat on the grill. Lettuce leaves are ideal for wrapping the pork and pickles (dip into the nước chấm before taking a bite) or serve the skewers, sauce and pickles with steamed jasmine rice.
Don’t be afraid to pack the pork tightly onto the skewers. This helps prevent overcooking. If using a gas grill, make sure to allow it to heat covered for about 15 minutes before cleaning and placing the skewers on the grate. The sweet, sour and crunchy condiments balance the charred meat nicely.
It’s messy eating, but boy are they good!
Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers
- 2 Lbs. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of surface fat
- 5 Medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 Medium shallots, quartered
- 2 Stalks lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, thinly sliced
- 1 Serrano chili, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. chinese five-spice powder
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- Nước chấm (recipe follows)
- Pickled carrots and daikon (recipe follows)
- Lettuce leaves, to serve (optional)
- Place the pork on a large plate and freeze until the meat is firm and partially frozen, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots, lemon grass, chili, five-spice and 1½ teaspoons each salt and pepper. Process until finely chopped, about 45 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed.
- Add the oil, soy sauce, fish sauce and honey, then process until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.
- Using a chef’s knife, slice the partially frozen pork against the grain into pieces about ⅛ inch thick. The slices will be irregularly shaped; cut them into strips about 1-inch wide (it’s fine if the strips are not uniform). Add to the seasoning paste and toss, rubbing the paste into the meat.
- Thread the pork onto as many 10- to 12-inch metal skewers as needed, evenly dividing the meat and scrunching it together, packing it quite tightly. If some pieces are too wide, too wispy or awkwardly shaped, fold the meat or tuck in the edges as you skewer.
- Place on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large baking dish, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the grill.
- Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, ignite a large chimney of coals, let burn until lightly ashed over, then distribute evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grate. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the grate.
- Place the skewers on the hot side of the grill (if using charcoal) and cook until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until the second sides are lightly charred, about another 3 minutes.
- Flip the skewers again and continue to cook, turning every couple of minutes, until well charred on both sides, about another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a platter and drizzle with about ¼ cup of the nước chấm. Serve with the pickles and lettuce leaves for wrapping and with the remaining nước chấm for spooning on or dipping.
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
- ⅔ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. white sugar
- Kosher salt
- 2 medium, peeled
- 8 oz. daikon, peeled
- In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, 2 teaspoons salt and ⅓ cup water. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Cut the carrots and daikon crosswise into 1½- to 2-inch sections. Cut each piece lengthwise into thin planks, then cut the planks into slender sticks.
- Stir the vegetables into the vinegar mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate up to 1 week.
In the Vietnamese kitchen, nước chấm is a multipurpose sauce/dressing. If you wish to moderate the spiciness, seed the chilies before mincing them. The flavors are best the day the sauce is made, but it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- ⅓ cup fish sauce
- 3½ Tbsp. lime juice
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 3 med. garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
- In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and 6 tablespoons water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the garlic and chilies.
- Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving.
Recipes adapted from Courtney Hill from Milk Street