“Typically I would stuff this recipe full of cinnamon, star anise and cloves,” cook and food writer Marion Grasby says of her Vietnamese-style caramel pork belly dish. “But we tried putting those things in and the bitters did such a good job that we just didn’t need it.”
It’s a bit of a cheat, but that’s part of the charm for Grasby, who is perhaps best known for her interpretations of Thai cuisine . “I’m a very practical person,” she says. “I want things to taste amazing but I also realise we’re all time poor. It’s about balancing the time you have practically and then also the result you want to achieve.”
Caramel pork belly
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
Grasby recommends taking some time to find the right piece of pork. “All pork bellies aren’t created equal,” she says. “There’s a lot that have a lot of fat and no meat. You don’t want all meat either because you won’t get that soft, gelatinous texture. Try and look out for a pork belly that has a good amount of both.”
Caramel braising is a classic Vietnamese technique and, combined with the rich and fatty pork belly, makes for an indulgent dish. “You have a soy sauce and sweet, sugary mixture that, as the meat cooks in it, turns into a beautiful, deep, dark caramel that also has a lot of aromatics to it,” says Grasby. Usually, those aromatics come from additional spices, but here the Angostura aromatic bitters does much of the heavy lifting.
A secret blend of intensely concentrated spices and herbs distilled in Trinidad from a recipe that has remained unchanged since its creation in the 1820s, Angostura aromatic bitters are most associated with classic cocktails and the beloved Australian mixer, the Lemon Lime and Bitters.
Grasby likes to offset the heady richness of the caramelised pork with a quick-and-crunchy carrot pickle that really lifts everything. “It’s not like a traditional pickle that takes a long time. It’s a pretty quick version of it,” says Grasby.
The other addition is one of Grasby’s go-tos – nuoc cham dressing. “This is one of my all-time favourites,” says Grasby. “If there’s one sauce I’m making at home more than any [other], it’s definitely this Vietnamese one. Here it adds a tangy sweetness and complexity to the dish, and because you’ve got that raw garlic and chilli in there, it just adds another layer of flavour as well.”
The carrot pickle and nuoc cham sides are key for Grasby. “The thing I love about Vietnamese food – and Thai food; I think we have quite a synergy there – is quite often it’s all about what you serve with dishes,” she says. “Yes, the pork is the star of the show, but serving it with the pickled carrot and the nuoc cham and perhaps some rice or fresh herbs – that’s all going to make things amazing rather than just standard.”
Marion Grasby’s Vietnamese-style spiced caramel pork belly
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes
800g pork belly, skin removed, cut into 4cm chunks
3 strips orange peel
Juice of 1 orange
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sweet dark soy sauce
⅓ cup Angostura Aromatic Bitters
1 tbsp ginger, finely grated
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 brown onion, peeled, cut into wedges
Mint or coriander to serve (optional)
3 large carrots
⅓ cup white vinegar
⅓ cup white sugar
2 tsp sea salt
Nuoc cham dressing
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1–2 bird’s-eye chillies, finely chopped
Place pork pieces in a large mixing bowl, along with orange peel and juice, chicken stock, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauces, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, ginger, salt and pepper. Mix everything together in the bowl until the meat is well-coated and marinate for 30 minutes.
For the carrot pickle, mix the ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside for later.
Place a heavy-based saucepan on the stove on medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil, followed by the pork pieces, making sure you reserve the marinade. Cook the pork for 5 minutes or until golden brown, then flip over and repeat. Add the onion to the pan and toss until well combined. Pour over the reserved marinade. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or until the sauce has thickened and the pork is fork tender.
To make the nuoc cham dressing, mix the ingredients in small bowl. Set aside for later.
Once the pork is cooked, transfer to a serving plate. Serve with the carrot pickle, nuoc cham and herbs, if using.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Angostura.