Vietnamese Pork Belly with Dried Shrimp - Tôm khô kho quẹt
Moderate - You'll be right
I’ve previously mentioned on this site how some Vietnamese dishes such as thit kho, lemongrass chicken, Vietnamese braised fish and Vietnamese beef pho stew are rice thieves. For those who are new here, a ‘rice thief’ dish is one that is intentionally rich in savoury umami flavour, demanding a generous amount of rice to offset it’s saltiness. In this recipe, pork belly is rendered down significantly then combined with the traditional flavours of premium fish sauce, anchovy salt and dried shrimp.
Mum and I had extremely savoury palates, whenever mum made tom kho kho quet, we would be the main ones in our family devouring it. Visually this dish looks simple to make, but can be quite technical, as cooking pork belly with the incorrect technique can fail the dish. To obtain the consistency and flavours required for this traditional Vietnamese dish, it is critical for the rendered fat to amalgamate with the fish sauce and dried shrimp; culminating in the ultimate umami sauce.
Traditionally this dish is made with only pork lard and dried shrimp. I find using only pork lard too unctuous and usually opt for fatty pork belly. However, if you’re quite partial to unctuous meats, you can add additional pork lard to the recipe or use pork lard exclusively. To obtain the perfect render of the pork belly, start with a cold pan and pork belly that has been cut into small pieces. Make sure you use a premium fish sauce that does not contain sugar or additional MSG. I use Son fish sauce as its high umami to salt ratio means you can use a lot more than your standard fish sauce, thus increasing the overall umami flavour in the Vietnamese dish without over-seasoning it. For the ultimate experience, grab some fresh crisp vegetables like cucumber, string beans or wing beans to cut through that unctuous umami flavour in this dish.
If you love savoury dishes like thit kho but want to take your Vietnamese home cooking to that next level, do yourself a favour and give this dish a whirl to fill your kitchen with the fragrances of the streets of Vietnam.
45g dried shrimp, rehydrated
200ml hot water
500g fatty pork belly, cut into small thin strips
3 Thai shallots, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
3 birds eye chillis
50ml premium fish sauce
1 ½ teaspoons anchovy salt or sea salt
4 tablespoons sugar
Dried shrimp water (saved from rehydration process)
1 birds eye chilli, roughly chopped (optional)
2 sprigs spring onion, finely sliced (optional)
Cracked black pepper
How to prepare dried shrimp:
1. In a small bowl, rehydrate dried shrimp with 200ml hot water for 20 minutes.
Duncan’s tip: To save time, rehydrate with cold water the night before and place in fridge.
2. Remove dried shrimp but reserve the water.
How to cook pork belly:
1. Place pork belly in a cold medium saucepan or claypot, then place on low to medium heat for 40-45 minutes, or until pork fat has rendered and pork belly is lightly golden.
Duncan’s tip: Starting the pork in a cold saucepan allows the pork fat to render effectively.
2. With a small strainer or a pair of chopsticks, remove pork belly and set aside.
3. To the pot of rendered pork fat, add Thai shallots, garlic and chillis and cook on medium for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and lightly golden.
4. Add dried shrimp and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add fish sauce, 100ml of the reserved dried shrimp water, anchovy salt and sugar and bring to the boil. Return the pork belly to the pot and simmer on low for 5 minutes.
5. Garnish with fresh chilli, spring onions, cracked black pepper, and serve with freshly steamed rice and your favourite crisp fresh vegetable and Vietnamese pickled vegetables.
Duncan’s tip: For an authentic experience, dip the vegetables in the rendering sauce. Wing beans, snake beans, blanched okra, blanched amaranth or blanched water spinach are some excellent choices.