Most of Asia was colonized by a European power at one time or another and some influences remained long after the colonial powers had gone. Perhaps, among the strongest and more long-lasting of those influences are reflected in Asian cuisines.
Take Vietnamese food, for instance. What is it about Vietnamese cooking that makes it distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines? Probably the French factor. Vietnam, along with Laos and Cambodia (once referred to as French Indochina), was once a French colony.
Unlike the bolder flavors of the food of its neighbors, Vietnamese food is, in comparison, more subtle while still embodying the rich complexity that Asian cooking is known for. It is, in essence, a marriage between local ingredients and traditions (already influenced by neighboring countries), on the one hand, and French techniques, on the other. To describe the result as pleasant would be an understatement. The result is magnificient.
In this recipe, the caramel sauce is made by melting sugar with patis (fish sauce). It will smell awful at first but once you add the herbs and spices, the funky odor will be replaced by a spicy-citrusy aroma that will whet your appetite as you wait for the pork in caramel sauce to finish cooking.
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup patis (fish sauce)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 400 pork belly pork belly cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup bone broth
- 2 stalks lemongrass tied in a knot
- 2 pandan leaves tied in a knot
- 1 pair kaffir lime leaves
- 1-inch knob ginger lightly pounded
- toasted sesame seeds to garnish
- thinly sliced holy basil to garnish
In a small sauce pan, make the caramel sauce by heating the sugar and fish sauce together without stirring until the sugar is completely melted. Set aside.
In a wok or frying pan, heat the cooking oil. Lightly brown the pork pieces.
Pour in the caramel sauce.
Throw in the lemongrass, pandan, kaffir lime leaves and ginger.
Pour in the broth.
Bring to a simmer, cover the pan and cook until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes.
Remove the pan cover. Fish out the lemongrass, pandan, kaffir lime leaves and ginger.
Turn up the heat and cook, stirring often, until the liquid thickens and deepens in color.
Transfer the pork to a shallow serving bowl, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced holy basil, and serve at once.
Click here for the chicken in caramel sauce recipe.