FreshTartSteph Recipe: Vietnamese Pork Skewers

How lovely was it to sleep with the windows open last night? This mid-July cool breeze is as welcome as pork on the grill, especially pork wrapped in butter lettuce leaves with the punch of fish sauce, chiles, mint, and fresh lime. Palates tingle and everyone sleeps well when refreshment abounds.

This dish comes together quickly enough for weeknight eats but is pretty enough to share with friends on the weekend. Perfect! Any crisp garden treat plays nicely with sizzling pork–I loaded up with radishes, cucumber, carrots, and scallions, but thinly sliced raw kohlrabi, beets, zucchini, spring onions, and/or garlic scapes would all be gorgeous. Fresh mint, cilantro, and plenty of fresh lime pull everything together, as does the easy dipping sauce.

For the best flavor, make sure to buy high-quality ground pork. If the pork is super lean, work a bit of coconut oil into the meat along with the seasonings. The goal is the pleasing contrast of hot, rich pork against raw, crisp vegetables.

If you don’t have access to a grill, saute the skewers in a large skillet in a bit of coconut oil. Delicious that way, and then you can whisk coconut milk into the pan drippings to make a sauce for another dish–add chiles, fish sauce, sugar, and fresh lime. I use the sauce for an unforgettably creamy base for a Thai-style omelet, or I add it to a panful of ground beef, with plenty of scallions, and eat the beef rolled in more lettuce leaves. Waste not, want not when it comes to rich coconut-laced dishes. Can’t get enough!

Vietnamese Pork Skewers

Serves 4
Can be made one day ahead; cover and refrigerate.

1 lb. high-quality ground pork
3 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 serrano chile, minced
2 scallions, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
coconut oil (a tablespoon or two if pork is quite lean)
3-inch skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes

1 head butter lettuce, separated into leaves
1 cup each thinly-sliced or matchstick slices (mix-and-match) of radishes, daikon radishes, carrots, cucumbers, scallions, enoki mushrooms, snap peas, or other seasonal vegetables
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh cilantro
Lime slices
Dipping sauce (recipe below)

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Add all skewer ingredients to a large bowl. Using your hands, gently mix seasonings into the pork.

Press about 2 Tbsp. of pork around each of the skewers, forming a uniform cigar shape, leaving a bit of empty skewer at each end. (Bring to room temperature before grilling.)

Grill skewers until nicely browned on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Let skewers rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve hot rolled in lettuce leaves with garnishes and dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce:
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger root
1 fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed

Stir together in a small bowl.