Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

Do you have a dictionary nearby? Grab it – and if you have a minute to look up “fresh-delicious-and-vibrant” I’m quite certain you’ll see something similar to these Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls. In all fairness though, I do have to warn you!

Once you try this fabulous cuisine, you’ll find yourself craving it again and again. And that’s precisely how this recipe came into being.

I called my daughter-in-law, one day and asked if she was up for lunch at our favorite little Vietnamese restaurant. We don’t get there frequently, since it’s on the opposite side of town, but it’s definitely worth the drive when we have the time. Lindsay didn’t hesitate, so we made a date.

Our lunch did not disappoint. It was fabulous and, had you been a little mouse in the restaurant that day, you would have laughed your little furry head off at the two women ooh-ing, aah-ing and mmm-ing over each bite of their lunch.

Vietnamese food is so fresh and vibrant, it really is hard to not crave it once you’ve experienced it. It’s sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, hot, cold and bursting with multiple layers of deliciousness. When I got home that day, my mind was spinning with ideas for recreating some of those wonderful taste sensations in my own little kitchen.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

I decided to go with Vietnamese Caramelized Pork as it’s been a longtime favorite of mine. But then, what’s not to love about tender, bite-size pieces of pork in a deeply caramelized, sweet, spicy, salty sauce. I looked up a few recipes, and even watched a You Tube video on how to make caramelized pork. It didn’t seem too complicated, so I picked up a few ingredients and got to work.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

I started out with pork shoulder, because that’s what all the authentic Vietnamese recipes use. It was fabulous, super tender and full of flavor. The only problem was the fact that pork shoulder is quite marbled with fat and after simmering the meat in the delicious sauce, much of that fat, was now in my sauce. I was looking for something a bit healthier, so there I was, back at the drawing board.

I picked up some pork tenderloin and tried substituting this leaner cut of meat for the pork shoulder. That didn’t work so well. The lean pork got too dry and a little tough after simmering in the sauce. I even tried adding it at the very end of the cooking time but still it wasn’t great.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

I wasn’t about to give up though, and finally, I found the magic solution. I made the sauce and pork separately, roasting the pork tenderloin in the oven to the perfect temperature, allowing it to rest, then slicing it thin and slipping it into the fragrant, ginger and lemongrass-scented sauce.

Most authentic recipes for Vietnamese Caramelized Pork have just a few ingredients; sugar (which is melted and caramelized – hence the name), fish sauce, water, shallots, and pork. I omitted the shallots and added a few other favorite Asian ingredients: garlic, ginger, lemongrass and a splash of Sriracha for a touch of spiciness.

I felt, for a while, that I was never going to get it right and poor Scott endured a few not-so-stellar Vietnamese Caramelized Pork dinners. It’s just right now though, and all ready for you!

I like to serve it over jasmine rice (perfect jasmine rice) or rice noodles and pair it with lots of fresh veggies. The toppings can be quite adaptable, depending on what you like and what’s fresh and pretty at the market. Our favorites are shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, avocado, peanuts and lots of fresh herbs. Traditional Vietnamese herbs are cilantro, mint and basil.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

There’s a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce that I like to drizzle over the veggies. It’s called nuoc cham (pronounced noo-ahk CHAHM) and is made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chili peppers. It adds a bright, fresh authentic layer of delicious flavor to these Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! Do you have a dictionary nearby? Grab it - and if you have a minute to look up "fresh-delicious-and-vibrant" I'm quite certain you'll see something similar to these Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls. In all fairness though, I do have to warn you.. Once you try this fabulous cuisine, you'll find yourself craving it again and again. And that's precisely how this recipe came into being. I called my daughter-in-law, one day and asked if she was up for lunch at our favorite little Vietnamese restaurant. We don't get there frequently as it's on the opposite side of town but it's definitely worth the drive when we have the time. Lindsay didn't hesitate, so we made a date. Our lunch did not disappoint. It was fabulous and had you been a little mouse in the restaurant that day you would have laughed your little furry head off at the two women oo-hing and aa-hing and mmm-ing over each bite of their lunch. Vietnamese food is so fresh and vibrant, it really is hard to not crave it once you've experienced it. It's sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, hot, cold and bursting with lots of layers of delicious flavor. When I got home that day, my mind was spinning with ideas for re-creating some of those wonderful taste sensations in my own little kitchen. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! I decided to go with Vietnamese Caramelized Pork as it's been a long time favorite of mine. I mean, what's not to love about tender, bite-size pieces of pork in a deeply caramelized, sweet, spicy, salty sauce. I looked up a few recipes and even watched a You Tube video on how to make caramelized pork. It didn't seem too complicated so I picked up a few ingredients and set to work. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! I started out with pork shoulder because that's what all the authentic Vietnamese recipes use. It was fabulous, super tender and full of flavor. The only problem, to me was the fact that pork shoulder is quite marbled with fat and after simmering the meat in the delicious sauce, much of that fat, was now in my sauce. So I went back to the drawing board. I picked up some pork tenderloin and tried substituting this leaner cut of meat for the pork shoulder. That didn't work so well. The lean pork got too dry and a little tough after simmering ing the sauce. I even tried adding it at the very end of the cooking time but still it wasn't great. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! I wasn't about to give up though and finally I found the magic solution. I made the sauce and pork separately, roasting the pork tenderloin in the oven to the perfect temperature, allowing it to rest, then slicing it thin and slipping it into the fragrant, syrupy sauce. Most authentic recipes for Vietnamese Caramelized Pork have just a few ingredients; sugar (which is melted and caramelized - hence the name), fish sauce, water, shallots, and pork. I omitted the shallots and added a few other favorite Asian ingredients: garlic, ginger, lemongrass and a splash of Sriracha for a touch of spiciness. I felt for a while that I was never going to get it right and poor Scott endured a few not so stellar Vietnamese Caramelized Pork dinners but it's perfect now. I like to serve it over jasmine rice or rice noodles and pair it with lots of fresh veggies. The veggie part can be quite adaptable to what you like and what's fresh and pretty at the market. Our favorites are shredded carrot, sliced cucumber, avocado, peanuts and lots of fresh herbs. Traditional Vietnamese herbs are cilantro, mint and basil. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! There's a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce that I like to drizzle over the veggies. It's called nuoc cham (pronounced noo-ahk CHAHM) and is usually made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chili peppers. It adds an authentic layer of delicious flavor to these Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one! If you enjoy Asian food, I think you'll love this recipe. Both the sauce and the pork can be made in advance and then combined together just before serving. I just have this sneaking suspicion that if there's a little mouse in your house he/she would be laughing as you and your family/friends ooh, aah and mmm your way through this meal! P.S. Since this post started out with a warning, I'll end it with one too... Both the pork and the nuoc cham dipping sauce contain fish sauce which can usually be purchased in the Asian section of larger grocery stores. If you've never cooked with fish sauce, it kind of really stinks, straight from the bottle. But it adds delicious, almost mysterious flavor to many Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Don't skip it, just don't take a big whiff of it. I just recently tried Red Boat Fish Sauce. I had read in several cooking magazines how wonderful it was and several chefs had recommended it. I decided to find out if all the hype was true. I asked the Vietnamese girl who does my nails which fish sauce was the best. Without hesitation, she said "Red Boat!" It's not easy to find Red Boat fish sauce, unless you have a Vietnamese store nearby. Even my large Asian market didn't carry it as they seem to cater more to the Chinese cuisine. I was able to order it though from Amazon (where it also had great reviews from customers). It arrived in two days and I must say, I've been very pleased with it. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl Recipe Type: Vietnamese Author: Chris Scheuer (Nuoc Cham adapted from [url href="http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/nuoc_cham.aspx" target="_blank" title="Fine Cooking Nuoc Cham"]Fine Cooking[/url]) Serves: 6 Servings A classic Vietnamese specialty dressed up in light and lean clothes! This salad bowl is bursting with freshness and flavor. Ingredients For the dipping sauce: 1 clove garlic, minced 1 teaspoon [url href="http://amzn.to/17vZGRw" target="_blank" title="Ground Chili Paste"]ground chile paste[/url] 2/3 cup hot water 1/4 cup granulated sugar 3 tablespoons fish sauce ([url href="http://amzn.to/1AI8Ap1" target="_blank" title="Red Boat Fish Sauce"]my favorite[/url]) 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon finely sliced cilantro stems (optional) For the pork: 2 pounds pork tenderloin 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 scant teaspoon garlic salt, don't season too much as the sauce is well seasoned fresh ground black pepper For the sauce: ¾ cup sugar 1 cup water 2 tablespoons fish sauce ([url href="http://amzn.to/1AI8Ap1" target="_blank" title="Red Boat Fish Sauce"]my favorite[/url]) 1 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh lemongrass 2 teaspoons [url href="http://amzn.to/1MPJ3ki" target="_blank" title="Sriracha Chile Sauce"]Sriracha chili sauce[/url] 4 cups cooked jasmine rice 2 cups shredded carrots 1 medium English (seedless) cucumbers, thinly sliced 1 large ripe avocado peanuts cilantro sprigs mint leaves Instructions Make the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium size glass jar. Shake well till sugar is completely dissolved then set aside. Preheat oven to 500˚F. Line a sheet pan with foil for easy clean up. Rub pork tenderloin all over with olive oil. Season lightly with garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on sheet pan. If you have two tenderloins, make sure they're not touching. Roast for 12 minutes then remove from oven and flip tenderloins to opposite side. (I like to use a tongs for this.) Return to oven and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes or until internal temperature reads 145-150˚F. Tent pork loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice meat thinly, about 1/4 inch thick. If making ahead, wrap meat tightly in foil and refrigerate till ready to use. For the sauce, place sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. After a couple minutes sugar will start melting and turning amber at the edges. Stir several times to prevent sugar from burning. Cook until sugar is completely melted and is deep amber colored. Be careful at this point because it can go from amber to black (burned) quickly. Add water, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and Sriracha, stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a steady constant simmer and cook until liquid is reduced, thick and syrupy. This will take anywhere from 15-25 minutes. You are looking for a consistency similar to molasses in order for it to coat the pork. Add the pork to the hot sauce and gently stir. To serve, divide rice between 6 bowls. Arrange pork, carrots, cucumbers, avocado, peanuts and herbs decoratively on top of rice. Drizzle veggies with Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce). Enjoy! Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

If you enjoy Asian food, I think you’ll love this recipe. Both the sauce and the pork can be made in advance and then combined together just before serving. I have a sneaking suspicion that, if there’s a little mouse in your house, he/she would be laughing as you and your family/friends ooh, aah and mmm your way through this meal too!

P.S. Since this post started out with a warning, I’ll end it with one too…

Both the pork and the nuoc cham dipping sauce contain fish sauce which can usually be purchased in the Asian section of larger grocery stores. If you’ve never cooked with fish sauce, it kind of really stinks, straight from the bottle. But it adds delicious, almost mysterious flavor to many Vietnamese and Thai dishes, not the slightest bit “fish-y”. Don’t skip it, just don’t take a big whiff!

I just recently tried Red Boat Fish Sauce. I’d read in several cooking magazines how wonderful it was, and had heard several chefs recommend it. I decided to find out if all the hype was true. I asked the Vietnamese girl who does my nails (and enjoys cooking) which fish sauce was the best. Without hesitation, she said “Red Boat!” That sold me!

It’s not easy to find Red Boat Fish Sauce sauce, unless you have a Vietnamese store nearby. Even my large Asian market didn’t carry it as they seem to cater more to Chinese cuisine. I was able to order it though from Amazon (where it also had great reviews from customers). It arrived in two days and I must say, I’ve been very pleased with it.

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Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!

5 from 9 reviews

A classic Vietnamese specialty dressed up in light and lean clothes! This salad bowl is bursting with freshness and flavor.

  • Author:
  • Yield: 6 Servings
  • Category: Vietnamese

Ingredients

  • For the dipping sauce:
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground chile paste
  • 2/3 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (my favorite)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely sliced cilantro stems (optional)
  • For the pork:
  • 2 pounds pork tenderloin
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 scant teaspoon garlic salt, don’t season too much as the sauce is well seasoned
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • For the sauce:
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (my favorite)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh lemongrass
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha chili sauce
  • 4 cups cooked jasmine rice (Perfect Jasmine Rice – every time!)
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 medium English (seedless) cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • peanuts
  • cilantro sprigs
  • mint leaves

Instructions

  1. Make the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium-size glass jar. Shake well till sugar is completely dissolved then set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 500˚F. Line a sheet pan with foil for easy clean up.
  3. Rub pork tenderloin all over with olive oil. Season lightly with garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on sheet pan. If you have two tenderloins, make sure they’re not touching.
  4. Roast for 12 minutes then remove from oven and flip tenderloins to opposite side. (I like to use tongs for this.) Return to oven and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes or until internal temperature reads 145-150˚F*.
  5. Tent pork loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice meat thinly, about 1/4 inch thick. If making ahead, wrap meat tightly in foil and refrigerate till ready to use.
  6. For the sauce, place sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. After a couple minutes sugar will start melting and turning amber at the edges. Stir several times to prevent sugar from burning. Cook until sugar is completely melted and is deep amber colored. Be careful at this point because it can go from amber to black (burned) quickly.
  7. Add water, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass and Sriracha, stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a steady constant simmer and cook until liquid is reduced, thick and syrupy. This will take anywhere from 15-25 minutes. You are looking for a consistency similar to molasses in order for it to coat the pork.
  8. Add the pork to the hot sauce and gently stir. I like to add one piece of the pork and stir to coat it. If the sauce is not clinging to the pork, it’s too thin. Just simmer it a bit longer to reduce and thicken.
  9. To serve, divide rice between 6 bowls. Arrange pork, carrots, cucumbers, avocado, peanuts and herbs decoratively on top of rice. Drizzle veggies with Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce). Enjoy!

Notes

* Do use a thermometer when you roast the pork. If it’s overdone it will be tough and dry. Scott got this one for Christmas. It had 945 5-star reviews on Amazon and we are super pleased with it. It’s very simple to use. You don’t have to have a fancy one though, you can buy inexpensive ones that also work well. A thermometer like this is a lifesaver in the kitchen!

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls - if you look up fresh and delicious in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this fabulous dish. It's sweet, salty, spicy and FRESH all rolled into one!



34 thoughts on “Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Salad Bowls”

  • Hello, I’ve come to love your blog and recipe pins after learning about it from your lovely daughter in London. First of all, thanks for giving such great inspiration for my family meals and celebrations!

    I’ve made this recipe twice now, and we love it. However, each time, I feel like I’m doing something wrong when I add the water to the caramelized sugar. It hardens the sugar very quickly to candy, and I’ve had trouble regaining the right consistency. Should I be adding hot water? Or let the sugar cool a bit?

    Thanks again for all your beautiful work!

  • My husband cannot have refined sugar in much quantity. Any thoughts on a substitute? I often use apricot jam that is sweetened with fruit juice (not artificial sweeteners.)

    So many of the Asian recipes seem to have sugar in them. Do they really use this much sugar in Vietnam, Korea, etc?

  • Hi there,

    I had some cooked leftover pork tenderloin and was looking for a recipe. Boy, am I glad I found yours !!! I made it as a sald without rice but full of veggies. It was soooooo good !!! Next time, because there will be a next time, I will add some rice nooddle with it. Also, just thinking, that meat would be great in a spring roll, definitely worth a try. Thank you so much for sharing !

  • Absolutely delicious! The play of sweet against spicy, hot against cold, this has become a new favorite. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Helene,

      Nice to meet you! We also are crazy for Vietnamese food. We have one restaurant in town that we love going to but it’s fun to make it at home too.

      Scott uses a Cannon 6D for all of our photography. He calls it his “big boy” camera. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  • Good idea to do the sauce separate from the meat. Especially in the winter. I love Vietnamese and make and eat it fairly often. I like Red Boat but it can be a bit pricey. Three Lions is good also if you can’t find Red Boat. Great post!

  • I am so happy to have come across your blog this morning. This Vietnamese bowl is calling my name. And, fish sauce is one of my favorites as well.

    Best,
    Bonnie

  • Wow, this bowl looks gorgeous, not only pretty for the eyes as well as packed with flavors and all textures…I would very much enjoy this…
    Thanks for sharing the recipe Chris…and enjoy the rest of your week 🙂

  • Oh, that does look good! We have a little Vietnamese restaurant that we frequent, but I seldom make anything but pho at home. This looks like something we’d love though, so I may have to try it. Fish sauce really is stinky, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Chris, such a mouthwatering dish. I need to find a substitute for soy. Scott, I received a thermometer for Christmas also – a white one. I love it. If you bake a potato and it reads 210°, it is perfect. 🙂

  • Goodness I don’t think these pictures could get any better. Beautiful work Scott! Recently I read an article about recipes from food bloggers and how most of them weren’t any good. The article went on to say that food bloggers (most) don’t test their recipes. Ha! Obviously the author has never heard of you or been to your blog. I appreciate how much testing and tweaking you do to make sure that everything you share with us is on point. This is a fantastic dish and as much as I turn my nose up at fish sauce I am willing to try it.

  • Oh we love a tasty treat like this! It is absolutely beautiful and the pork looks finger licking great! Fish sauce – how funny – it really does stink! When we were in Iceland we found that most native people eat dried fish – and it smells so horrible – fish jerky – totally disgusting if you ask me. Could not eat it (more than once) ewww – but fish sauce does add great flavor. Thanks for the brand recommendation!

  • It looks absolutely gorgeous with those colors! I also think this would fill you up for a long time. I have never tried anything like this. Here, the big food thing is Thai. Maybe that is true all over.

  • Wow! What a fabulous post, Chris! It was so interesting to read how you were inspired as well as how you tackled this recipe with the testing. I love the fact that the pork and sauce can be made ahead separately. Thanks for sharing along with your tips. I am so eager to try this recipe with your easy methods and ingredient recommendations–and, especially due to Scott’s inviting photography! 🙂

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