In today's Elements column and cooking video, I present caramel pork, one of the easiest Vietnamese dishes I've tried. It requires fish sauce, which can be stinky but the initial whiff cooks out. My children love it, and you might too.
I used coconut water for braising the pork, but if you don't want to bother, just use water. You'll still get a terrific dish.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup sliced shallots or onion
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or matchsticked
1 fresh hot pepper, like jalapeno or serrano, minced (optional)
2 pounds pork butt or country ribs, cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch chunks
1/8 cup fish sauce, or to taste
¾ cup coconut water, or water
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled (optional)
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
Put oil in heavy-bottomed pot large enough to fit pork chunks in single layer. Turn heat to medium high, and add sugar.
Watch for sugar to start browning. When light coffee color, add garlic, ginger, shallots or onion and hot pepper, if using.
Stir and let cook until garlic and shallots or onions soften, about 5 minutes.
Add pork and stir to combine. Let pork cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring so it doesn't stick.
Add coconut water or water, fish sauce and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a steady simmer. Push eggs into mixture and put lid on pot.
Simmer, occasionally stirring carefully, until pork is tender, 30 to 45 minutes more. If mixture looks like it might dry out, add a little water.
Slice eggs. Serve pork and savory, salty sauce over abundant white rice. Shower with scallions, if using.