Mam Ruoc is Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste, a staple condiment in Southeast Asian cuisines. It can also be effectively used to disperse a crowd.
Mam Ruoc is highly pungent in its raw form and the reason many Asians have outdoor kitchens. It is made from a mixture of ground shrimp and salt that has been left to ferment in the hot sun. lt's a salty condiment that's added to many different dishes and sauces. You wouldn't expect this jar of pungent-smelling ground shrimp to taste any good, but it acts in the same as anchovy paste. A little goes a long way and once cooked with aromatics, the taste is surprisingly well-rounded, bringing tons of umami flavor to a dish.
When I was making Vietnamese Caramelized Pork belly with Mam Ruoc, my kids couldn't stand the smell. They pinched their noses the whole time I was cooking. However, once I was done cooking, the smell subsided and guess who ate all the caramelized pork belly with no complaints? Yep. They ate it all. And they ate it happily.
I have families who live in Sông Đốc, Vietnam, a fishing village. They fish and dry their own food and they make the best homemade mam ruoc. They would occasionally send me mam ruoc through the mail. I am thankful for the awesome delivery but oh, the poor souls at the post office. I am truly sorry.
You don't need to have families in a fishing village in Vietnam to get Mam Ruoc. They are widely available in Asian grocery stores. Just look for the smelly jar labeled shrimp paste or shrimp sauce.
Below is one of my favorite side dishes that uses mam ruoc. It's a quick caramelized salty pork side dish that's best eaten with steamed white and lots of boiled/fresh vegetables.
Happy stinky eating!
Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Belly with Fermented Shrimp Paste (Thit Kho Mam Ruoc)
- 1-1/2 lbs pork belly
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 5 tablespoons minced lemon grass (tender bottom parts only)
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons fermented shrimp paste dissolve in 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1 teaspoon minced Thai chili pepper (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- To clean the pork belly and remove the off-smell of pork, vigorously rub it down with salt then rinse under cold running water. Blanch the pork belly in a small pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the pork belly from the boiling water and give it another rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Allow the pork to cool completely or chill in fridge overnight. A chilled pork belly will make it a lot easier to slice. Cut the pork belly into long strips and then thinly slice. Make sure every slice has a bit of skin and meat.
- In a skillet with a lid, heat vegetable oil on medium high. Add lemon grass, shallots and garlic. Stir together and pan fry until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
- Stir the pork belly into the aromatics and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add sugar and continue to cook for 5 minutes until get a nice a caramelization.
- Add in shrimp paste and reduce heat to low. Cover skillet with lid and continue to cook for another 5-8 minutes until pork is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. If liquid evaporates off too much, add in a few tablespoons of water.
- Remove lid and let the pork slowly simmer until the sauce thickens. Mix in the chili pepper if you like a bit of heat, then top with black pepper and serve with steamed white rice and a plentiful platter of boiled or fresh vegetables.