Monday, February 4, 2013

Lemongrass Pork Rib Bun

Sometimes it feels like yesterday - the sounds of motorbikes zooming past, the smells of incense in the muggy air, the vibrant colors of produce at the food stalls, and the wonderful tastes of Vietnam. It was over two years ago that my husband and I got to backpack around beautiful Southeast Asia. We ate everything in sight and were never disappointed with the flavors of the food. I brought home great memories and stories from this trip, but I also developed a whole new respect for balancing flavors. We ate what inspired my post today, lemongrass pork, one Friday night at an outdoor restaurant in Ha Noi. We sat on tiny plastic chairs and drank beer and rice wine, listened to a man sing karaoke, and ate one of the most memorable meals of our lives with a few local businessmen.

Braised Lemongrass Pork Ribs:

  • 3 lbs pork rib tips (approximately 1 inch of bone - you can find them cut this way at Asian grocery stores, or you can ask your butcher to do it for you), separated into individual rib pieces
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 bottle beer (I used a brown ale)
  • 3 tbsp Sriracha
  • 3 sticks of lemon grass roughly chopped
  • 2 x 1-inch pieces of ginger
  • 1 lb thin Vietnamese rice noodles ("bun")
  • limes, chiles, herbs and vegetables as condiments (see below)

In a large heavy-bottom dutch oven sear each side of the rib pieces on medium-high heat until well caramelized. Start the process with the olive oil, and the ribs will then render enough fat to sear themselves.  It's best to cook the rib pieces in batches, making sure all the meat is touching the bottom of the dutch oven - this will ensure the pan will stay hot and that you will get a nice caramelization on the rib meat. After each batch place the browned meat on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to help absorb some of the excess fat.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dutch oven and use a spoon to scrape off all the brown caramelized bits of meat on the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil and then add the rib pieces back into the dutch oven. Throw in the Sriracha, lemon grass and ginger and stir to incorporate. Cover the dutch oven and reduce the heat to a simmer. Braise the ribs for 4 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.

"Bun" is thin rice noodles, often served at room temperature, and the perfect accompaniment to this dish. If you live near a local Asian mart you will easily find many varieties of rice noodles varying in thickness. I like using pho noodles because they are a little thicker and have a little more heft to them. I've learned that the best way to reconstitute the noodles is to soak them in lukewarm water for 10-15 minutes. So for this dish use about 2 bundles of noodles per person. When ready to serve just use clean hands and pull out a hand full and put it into a large bowl. Quickly heat the bowl for 30 seconds in the microwave to ensure the noodles are tender.

The best part of Vietnamese food for me is that it is light and flavorful and packed with herbs. At the Asian market I buy bunches of cilantro, Thai basil, mint and Asian cilantro, a.k.a. "culantro." I  put all these herbs on a large plate with bean sprouts, carrot slices, lime wedges, and chiles. I serve the bun with the lemongrass ribs and each diner gets to decide how to build their bowl - pile on the herbs and fresh veggies or choose your favorite garnishes - it's up to you! The delicious lemongrass braising sauce is used to top the bun. Enjoy with a nice cold glass of beer and take a mouth watering journey to Ha Noi, Vietnam!


  1. This dish looks divine. Not only do you balance the flavors, but the presentation is awesome.

  2. I can smell this lovely meal through my computer! Miss your cooking and most of all miss you!