If you go to a Vietnamese restaurant, odds are pretty low that you’ll find thịt kho on the menu. But, thịt kho is probably the most common dish found in Vietnamese homes. My mom would often make a batch every week for our family dinners and there always seemed to be some available in the fridge at any given time.
As I’ve learned from friends over the years, braised pork can be found across Asian cuisines. Each culture seems to prepare the dish in their own unique way. But, what unites them all is that braised pork over rice is comfort food.
For the Vietnamese version, thịt kho is made of pork belly that has been slowly braised over low heat to tenderize the meat and absorb all the savory flavors from the fish sauce and sweetness from the coconut soda. The end result is a caramelized and tender pork belly in a reduced sweet and savory sauce. Pour the sauce over your braised pork on rice, add an egg, and you have the ultimate Vietnamese comfort food.
Vietnamese caramelized braised pork (thịt kho)
Thịt kho is a common staple in Vietnamese homes. Its made of pork belly that has been slowly braised over low heat to tenderize the meat and absorb all the flavors from the fish sauce and coconut soda. The end result is a caramelized and tender pork belly in a reduced sweet and savory sauce. Pour the sauce over your braised pork on rice, add an egg, and you have the very definition of Vietnamese comfort food.
- 2 pounds pork belly, 1-2" pieces Pork shoulder is a less fatty alternative
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced (optional), can also substitute with 1/2 onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp fish sauce Phú Quốc or Việt Hương (3 Crabs) are our preferred brands
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 12 oz coconut soda Coco Rico is our preferred brand, coconut water also works
- 5 hard-boiled eggs (optional)
- 1 green onion, thinly chopped (garnish)
Cut the pork belly into 1-2" pieces. The pork belly shrinks significantly, so if you prefer larger pieces, start at 1.5" pieces. Put the pork belly into a bowl.
Mix the garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, and fish sauce with the pork belly in the bowl. Let it marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Use a non-stick pot big enough for the pork belly and heat it over medium heat. In the next step, It's important to keep a close eye on the pan and not step away to make sure the sugar doesn't burn before immediately adding the pork belly.
When the pot comes to temperature, add the sugar. It will take a few minutes for the edges of the sugar to start melting, but when it does, it will melt quickly thereafter. You should see the edge of the sugar start melting. If the edges are immediately brown, then your heat is too high (edges should be melting clear). Turn down your heat and let the sugar melt more slowly. Stir the sugar to melt evenly. When you see the color turn into a caramel/golden-brown color, immediately add the pork belly and stir with a silicone spatula.
The caramel may harden and stick to the spatula , but just scrape it off with a knife and let it dissolve in the fish sauce from the pork belly marinade. Cook the pork belly until it's brown on all sides.
Add the coconut soda. If needed, add any water to make sure all the pieces of pork belly are at least partially submerged in liquid.
Bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat to bring to a simmer. Let it simmer, uncovered, for at least 1.5 hours. Check and stir the pot every 20-30 minutes. The longer you let the pork simmer, the softer it will get.
Optional: If you haven't already, hard-boil and peel your eggs.
Optional: In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add your hard-boiled eggs.
The liquid should reduce by at least half of what you had originally. You can serve at this time or choose to reduce the sauce further until it turns into a richer, darker red-brown color. Then, take it off the heat and serve with rice.
This dish is often accompanied with other options at the dinner table. You can serve with vegetable side dishes, or we’ve found that kimchi pairs well with this dish!