Vietnamese braised pork belly and eggs (thịt kho) is traditionally served to welcome the Lunar New Year but also consumed throughout the year by Vietnamese families. This is a dish that represents more than sustenance. It symbolises the coming together of family and the new year as a time to reflect on the deceased and wish prosperity and good fortune to those around you. Through this tradition, I have been able to witness our family’s thịt kho recipe get passed down through two generations.
My grandma emphasised the importance of slow braising, to achieve pork belly meat that is fall-apart tender, fat that melts in your mouth and pork rind that is sticky and gelatinous. My mum stressed the importance of accentuating the sweet tasting profile in thịt kho by making your own caramel as opposed to using over-processed bottled caramel. Her rationale was that the combination of canned young coconut water and homemade caramel would ascertain the sweetness required to balance your thịt kho. I firmly believe recipes are made to be changed and, in my hands I’ve created my family's third thịt kho variation.
The changes I’ve made to the family recipe revolve around the young coconut water, pork belly cooking process and the brand of fish sauce used. Growing up in a family of first generation immigrants, money was hard to come by. Mum used canned young coconut water because it was cost effective. In this recipe, I replace canned young coconut water with it’s fresh alternative. This adds a more subtle undiluted and unprocessed natural sweetness to the dish which I find better rounds off the balance of the dish. I also sear the pork belly prior to braising it, to seal in the flavour. Finally, I use Son fish sauce which is moderately high in fish protein and low in salt. Because of this, I am able to add almost 30% more fish sauce than grandma and mum did and eliminate the need for added MSG. As a result, the dish's level of umami is increased but its saltiness remains the same when compared to its two previous iterations.
Vietnamese braised pork belly and eggs (thịt kho) can be enjoyed all year round, so do your family a favour and impress them with this recipe’s umami flavour.
1kg pork belly, cubed in 3cm pieces
2 young coconuts or 2 frozen coconut water
400-600ml chicken stock
1 brown onion, quartered
60g ginger, halved and crushed
4-6 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
50ml Son fish sauce
6 free range eggs, boiled and peeled
20ml neutral cooking oil
2½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon anchovy salt or 1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 birds eye chilli (optional)
Marinate pork belly in 25ml of Son fish sauce and garlic for minimum 1 hour or for ideal results in the fridge overnight.
If marinating overnight, remove from fridge 1 hour before cooking and allow pork to return to room temperature.
In a large casserole pot, add cooking oil and sear the pork belly in batches reserving the garlic, then remove.
Saute ginger and onion until brown, then add the reserved garlic and return the seared pork belly.
In small pan, add 2 tablespoons of sugar and heat on medium until caramelised, then add to casserole pot
Add the water from young coconuts or frozen coconut water.
Add eggs, remaining fish sauce and sugar, anchovy salt, chilli, pepper and chicken stock to cover
Cover then simmer on low for 2 hours 30 minutes, occasionally stirring.
Once the meat is soft and tender, serve with freshly steamed rice, blanched seasonal greens, fresh cucumber and tomato.