At first glance “fish sauce” sounds like an ingredient you’d want to steer clear from. There are a few foods out there that should just remain in their natural form, if you know what I mean.
That said, fish sauce is actually a godsend. Ever wonder how an Asian dish gets that (for lack of a better word) Asian taste? For most Southeast Asian cuisines, the answer is usually fish sauce. Other interesting ingredients in Asian cooking that I’m not quite ready to explore yet are egg shells and oyster sauce. I’ll take my eggs over easy and my oysters with a champagne mignonette, thank you very much!
While I really do want to convince you to try your hand at these Nam Pla (Thai for fish sauce) Marinated Pork Chops, I feel it to be only fair that you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Fish sauce is made of fish (usually anchovies) and salt that has fermented for one to two years. Here you were thinking you had to keep fish refrigerated at all times, and now I’m telling you to leave it on your counter for two years? I know, it’s a lot to take in. In Iceland (yeah, they’re on the fish sauce bandwagon, too), they realized that would make for one smelly kitchen, so they buried the fish underground, at least 5 feet deep, for over a year.
As for me, I just pick up a bottle at my local Asian grocery store and save it for special occasions when I’m feeling rather brave in the kitchen.
My personal stash of Nam Pla was getting a little dusty when I came across a recipe for Vietnamese Pork Chops in Bon Appétit’s latest issue. The photo looked too good to be true, so I put my big girl pants on and strolled on over to my (non-Asian) grocery store for some pork. Sorry Super 88, I’m just not ready to explore that part of our relationship yet.
I made a few tweaks to the original recipe such as using center-cut pork loin chops (which allow for a more complex texture) instead of thick-cut bone-in chops, substituting olive oil for vegetable oil, plus a couple other things we’ll get to later.
By marinating the chops for at least an hour, they soak up all the rich flavor of that (not-to-be) dreaded fish sauce, which totally changes flavor when pan-fried. The result is a tangy, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside (none of that cardboard stuff your grandma made you eat) chop, that will have you second guessing whether you actually put that nasty fish sauce in there in the first place. But fear not, that unique Asian flare you taste is all thanks to our trusty fermented fishy friends.
This meal is ridiculously easy to prepare, only requiring a few ingredients. Pork chops are fairly inexpensive, so if your kitchen is stocked with the staples, you won’t have to fork over too much cash to make this meal happen. Because the flavor in these pork chops is so intense, I served mine with white jasmine rice. As an added bonus, you can turn that marinade into a dipping sauce. Feel free to set the table with straws though. You’ll want to slurp up every last drop.
Adapted from Bon Appétit’s Vietnamese Pork Chops
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
¼ cup fish sauce (preferably nam pla, the Thai variety)
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 1-1 ½ inch thick center-cut pork loin chops
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 fresh lime
1. In a shallow dish, whisk shallot, brown sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, and pepper.
2. Rinse pork chops and pat dry with a paper towel. Pierce meat all over on both sides using a fork. (This will allow that yummy marinade to soak in and tenderize the meat)
3. Place chops in marinade and turn to coat. Place in fridge for one to two hours, turning meat frequently.
4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
5. Remove pork from marinade and season with sea salt. Don’t use too much because the marinade is already pretty salty.
6. Pour marinade into a small saucepan and heat over low-medium heat, stirring often. Make sure to bring marinade to a boil for at least five minutes to destroy any harmful bacteria from the raw pork.
7. While marinade is reducing, cook pork chops in heated skillet, about four minutes on each side. When flipping, make sure the meat down side has a nice char on it. If it doesn’t, leave the first side face down for another minute before flipping.
8. Remove pork from skillet and allow to rest five minutes before serving. Meanwhile, pour dipping sauce into two ramekins.
9. Serve immediately with a wedge of fresh lime.