This is such a wonderful recipe to use economical pork shoulder in an exciting new way! A Vietnamese lemongrass marinade infuses with beautiful flavour while a smidge of baking soda is the secret to tenderising so the pork steaks are tender like premium chops. Vietnamese street-food!
Vietnamese lemongrass pork
I’ve been wanting to recreate the chargrilled lemongrass marinated pork you find “everywhere” on the streets of Vietnam for years – but it always came out dry. Finally figured out the secret to keeping it juicy, so I had to share the recipe immediately! 😂
Across Vietnam, variations of this lemongrass pork are served in various forms. On rice, soups, in rice paper rolls, even in Banh Mi. While all are delicious, my favourite are the popular Vietnamese noodle bowl salads, bun thit nuong. Thin rice noodles, topped with this pork, pickled vegetables, lettuce, a smattering of peanuts, lime and served with nuoc cham, that sauce served with “everything” in Vietnam.
I’ve shared the pork noodle bowl as a separate recipe as I wanted to publish the marinated pork separately because I think it’s worthy of your attention!
Here’s a photo of the pork rice noodle bowls. I actually took this photo in Vietnam – it’s a dish I bought from a street vendor in Saigon and took back to my hotel to take a photo:
Oh look! And said vendor in Saigon. 🙂 They cooked the pork on skewers over charcoal. I’m doing a home version – steaks on a stove. So you can make this any night of the week – rain, hail or shine!
Why you need this Vietnamese pork in your life!
Excellent value – It’s made using economical pork shoulder that is tenderised so it’s juicy like premium pork chops!
Flavour plus value – The meat is sliced and pounded thinly for maximum flavour penetration and so less meat goes further.
Something different but yet so easy, with ingredients you can get from the local shops.
Versatile – Serve at your next BBQ with coconut rice and Asian slaw. Or wait until Friday to make Vietnamese noodle bowls!
Deliciousness factor is extremely high for relatively small effort
And because I know someone will ask – yes you can make this with chicken, here it is! 🙂
What you need
Here’s what you need to make this.
Pork shoulder – Generally, this economical, tough cut of pork is slow cooked until it becomes fall-apart tender. Today, we’re using it in a really different way. Sliced thinly, then marinated with baking soda which tenderises it so when it’s cooked hard-and-fast like steak, it is tender like a pricey pork chop. (Links again for glowing reader reviews who have discovered the wonder of this technique with chicken and beef!).
Baking soda – also known as bi-carb / bi-carbonate. As noted in the point above, this is what tenderises the tough pork shoulder meat.
Lemongrass – For unmistakable, irreplaceable beautiful Vietnamese flavour!
Limes – For tang. A Vietnamese food favourite.
Sugar – For sweet and caramelisation.
Soy sauce and fish sauce – The saltiness. I like to use both to get the right flavour balance. Only fish sauce = too fishy. Only soy sauce = lacks complexity of flavour.
Garlic – Lots!
Oil – To increase the volume of the marinade so there is the right flavour infusion for the volume of meat we’re using. (Initially I just had more of all the other ingredients but the pork was too salty).
How to make Vietnamese lemongrass marinated pork
The key to this recipe is to slice and pound the pork as thinly as you can. This serves a few purposes:
head start tenderising the flesh
opens up the fibres to allow the marinade to penetrate thoroughly
increases surface area and flattens the pork to improve surface area char – for optimum real chargrilled street-food flavour!
allows us to make this with economical pork shoulder rather than pricey pork tenderloin or chops.
Slice the pork shoulder into eight thinnish pieces – gives us a head start on the pounding. I find it easiest to do this by cutting the pork on 45 degree angle but if you have the right shaped piece, you could just cut straight down.
PRO TIP: To get even(ish) pieces without pulling out the scales, cut the pork shoulder in half, then each half in half again, then each in half again. Voila – 8 pieces!
Pound to 5mm / 0.2″ thickness thick using a meat mallet (the jagged side) or rolling pin. Cover with go-between or freezer bags to prevent damaging the meat. (Go-between is a purpose made plastic sheet, sold alongside cling wrap. Also useful for stacking foods in the freezer without sticking together).
Post pounding thin pork!
Marinade – Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
Coat pork Add the pork and use tongs to coat well.
Marinate 24 hours – Transfer to a ziplock bag and marinate for 24 hours.
Why mix separately first? To ensure really good, even distribution of the small amount of bi-carb across quite a lot of surface area. I wouldn’t ask you to dirty a bowl unnecessarily 🙂
Why a ziplock bag? Because it keeps the meat completely coated in a relatively small amount of marinade. If you prefer a container, use a small one so the meat is as snugly fitted as possible and toss the pork once or twice during the marinading time.
High heat cooking – Cook for 1 1/2 minutes in a hot cast iron skillet OR on your BBQ over high heat. Then cook the other side for 1 minute. Super quick to cook because it’s so thin!
Aim for a nice char – The pork will char quickly because of the sugar in the marinade and that’s what we want, that authentic chargrilled flavour.
STILL TENDER! Technically, with 2 1/2 minutes of high heat blasting, the thin pork should be overcooked and dry inside, not to mention the tough pork shoulder hasn’t been slow cooked as it should so it should be horridly tough. Nope! The inside is still juicy, and it’s more tender than you ever imagined pork shoulder could be, thanks to the baking soda (read more on this above in the ingredients section).
NOTE: Meat tenderised using the baking soda method will be pink inside even when it’s cooked to well done! It’s just what happens. It happens with beef too. 🙂
As mentioned above, I’ll share the Vietnamese Pork Noodle Bowls recipe on Friday (UPDATE: here it is!). But think beyond the noodle bowl! Serve it with a side of coconut rice, Vietnamese red fried rice or plain jasmine rice with a side salad. Try one of these:
Vietnamese Chicken salad – minus the chicken
Steamed vegetables or any leafy greens drizzled with Asian Sesame Dressing
And just before I sign off, one more look at the pork noodle bowl:
It’s so good! ADORE the contrasting textures of the fresh vegetables and herbs with the flavourful marinated lemongrass pork all doused in nuoc cham, the Vietnamese chilli-garlic sauce served with “everything”.
What do you think?? Have I convinced you to give this Vietnamese pork a go? I hope so!!! If anything, it’s worth experiencing the magic of the marinade and how tender it makes pork shoulder steaks. Try it!! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Vietnamese Lemongrass Pork steaks (tenderised!)
- 500g/1 lb pork shoulder , skinless and boneless, or pork scotch (roast or steaks) (Note 1)
- 3 tbsp canola oil
- 2 lemongrass stalks , white part only, bruised, cut into 1 cm / 0.4″ slices on angle (Note 2)
- 4 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce (all purpose or light, NOT dark soy, Note 3)
- 4 tbsp brown sugar (tightly packed tablespoons)
- 3 tbsp oil (canola, vegetable, peanut)
- 3/4 tsp baking soda/bi-carb , for tenderising (Note 4)
- Cut pork – Cut into 8 equal, thinnish slices of pork. I find it easiest using the knife on a 45° angle, but if you have the right shape piece you can just cut straight down.
- Pound each steak to 5mm / 0.2" thickness using the scary side of a meat mallet (jagged, not flat), using go-between (Note 5) or a freezer bag to avoid damaging the meat. (You can use baking paper for rolling pin or the flat side of the mallet.)
- Marinade – Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl, it will fizz when the baking soda is added! Add pork then toss well to coat using tongs. Transfer to a ziplock bag and marinate for 24 hours.
- Remove pork from the marinade and brush off the lemongrass pieces. Discard marinade – it's done its job!
- Cook – Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat until you see wisps of smoke. Add 1 1/2 tbsp oil, then cook half the pork for 1 1/2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other side until nicely charred. Remove onto a plate. Scrape pan clean of loose black bits then cook the remaining pork.
- Serve! Make Pork Noodle Bowls (bun thit nuong) or serve with rice and a side salad – see note 6 and in post for suggestions!
- NOTE – The thin pork steaks are beyond well done in 2 1/2 minutes but it doesn't matter because the baking soda keeps them tender. It will be blushing pink inside due to the baking soda (same happens with beef). You could cook them for another 5 minutes and they will still be tender inside. Miracle!
- Vietnamese Chicken salad – minus the chicken
- Asian Slaw
- Chang’s Crispy Noodle Cabbage Salad
- Asian Side Salad
- Steamed vegetables or any leafy greens drizzled with Asian Sesame Dressing
I adore Vietnamese food!
Life of Dozer
When Dozer was in the paper over the Easter break. Specifically, the Good Weekend Magazine!
If you wish to continue to believe I’m an innocent angel, please do not read the article.