Normally when I think about caramel I think about sweet dishes but it’s often used in savoury dishes like in Vietnamese style caramel pork! This recipe starts out by caramelizing sugar, simmering it until it turns a golden brown. Once the sugar is caramelized, the sauce is made with fish sauce, lime juice, shallots, garlic, ginger, chilies and coconut water. This sauce has an amazing balance of sweetness from the caramel, saltiness from the fish sauce, sourness from the lime juice and spicy heat from the chili pepper! The pork is browned before being added to the sauce where it’s simmer until it’s falling apart tender and most of sauce has cooked off. After the pork has been cooked it will have cooked off it’s fat and it will then cook in the fat, caramelizing it on the outside, with the remaining sauce sticking to the pork! I enjoy eating this pork all by itself and it’s also goo served on rice, or in sandwiches, tacos, etc.!
Vietnamese Caramel Pork
Vietnamese style sweet and savoury caramelized pork that is melt in your mouth tender!
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 (2-3 pound) pork butt/shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (or coconut sugar or palm sugar)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, grated/minced
- 1 tablespoon galangal (or ginger), grated/minced
- 1 bird’s eye chili, thinly sliced
- 2 cups coconut water
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the pork and brown on all sides before setting aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the sugar and water, cook until the sugar melts, bring to a simmer and cook until it caramelizes and turns and turns a light golden brown.
- Carefully add the fish sauce, lime juice, lime zest, shallot, garlic, ginger and chili, mix well and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, before adding the coconut water.
- Add the pork, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the pork is falling apart tender and the liquid has mostly cooked off, about 2-3 hours.
- Once the liquid has been cooked off, stir and cook the pork until lightly caramelized and enjoy!
Option: Use another chili pepper or chili sauce (such as sriracha) instead of the bird’s eye chili.
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This sounds wonderful!
I’m wondering if I could brown the meat and then put it in the Crock Pot to cook???
You should be able to cook it in a crock pot! I have not tested it yet but I would start implementing steps 1-3, transfer to a slow cooker and cook on low, covered, for 8 hours, remove the lid and cook on high until the liquid has mostly cooked off, about and hour.
I tried it in the crockpot and even after three hours on high it didn’t cook down enough. I put it on the stove to reduce which sorta helped, but I didn’t achieve that color your photos have. Is that because you might have used soy sauce instead? Or the browning and bits of cooking on the stove? Regardless though it still turned out really good. I had surprise guests for dinner and they ate a few platefuls. So clearly it’s a missed technique on my end. 🙂
In the photos for this recipe, I used the stove top version which will have more colour than the slow cooker version. The colour comes from browning the meat first, both the browned meat and the brown bits left on the bottom of the pan which will help colour the sauce, and the brown sugar. The slow cooker or crockpot version is super easy to make (and just as tasty) but lid on the slow cooker traps in the moisture which means that they sauce won’t reduce. You can either remove the lid from the slow cooker, after the meat is cooked, and cook on high until the sauce reduces a bit, of transfer the sauce to the stove top and simmer to reduce it.
I have a coconut allergy, what can I use in replacement of the coconut water? Thanks
You can use water instead of coconut water! Enjoy!
nice twist for me on the sweet and sour pork recipes that I’m used to, with some of these ingredients that are new to me, so thank you!
Would pork tenderloin work for this recipe?
You can use tenderloin and it will be good, but not quite as good as the butt/shoulder. The extra fat in the butt/shoulder adds flavour and helps keep the pork moist and tender.
The tenderloin turned out well, but I can see where the butt/shoulder would add more flavor. Loved this recipe, served with Jasmine rice and steamed broccoli, carrots and peppers. Great leftovers as well!
Sounds delicious! What is coconut water though? I’ve never encountered that before.
Coconut water is the liquid in the center of the coconut that is packaged and sold, ready to drink, in a tera pack, can or bottle. You can usually find it on the self with the drinks or in the refrigerated section if the store serves chilled drinks.
I’m wondering if you do step 1-4 then pressure cook on high for 20 min?
Yes you can! Though, I am not sure about the cooking time. The pressure cooker traps the moisture inside so all of the liquid will remain, where in the stove top version the liquid cooks off and reduces to a thicker sauce that sticks to the meat. You may want to reduce the liquid in a pan on the stove after cooking the pork in the pressure cooker. Enjoy!
Rosa R says
If I use srirach how much should I add?
I add 1 tablespoon instead of the birds eye chili. If you prefer less heat you can use less, say 1 teaspoon.