The first thing I usually notice when I step into a Vietnamese restaurant is the smell of grilled lemongrass that escapes the kitchen. In fact, it's my criteria for a good Vietnamese restaurant. No grilled lemongrass aroma? No go. In Vietnam, it's the grilled lemongrass pork aroma that they use to lure in customers. You will often find someone fanning the aroma of grilled lemongrass pork that they strategically placed on a small charcoal grill near the street. The aroma goes straight into the onslaught of passing motorbikes. It's effective marketing. If I ever own a restaurant, I too would station myself at the very front and coat potential patrons in a lovely fragrance of lemongrass and pork as they walk by. Mmmmmwwwwahahahahahahaha.
I love having grilled lemongrass pork at home. It's also my go-to item when I pack lunch for my husband to take to work. I usually marinate a bunch of pork chops the night before and grill or pan fry them the next day. I pack the pork chops with steamed white rice and fresh vegetables such as lettuce or sliced cucumbers. Sometimes, I add kimchi and a fried egg if I'm feeling nice. When he reheats the pork chop in the microwave at work, I've been told that he's the envy of his coworkers ;-)
I have found pork chops to be very tricky to cook. Pork chops are lean so it dries out quickly. Here are a few tips on how to keep pork chops moist and tender:
- Buy bone-in pork chops. The bone provides not only moisture but also tons of flavor.
- Use thin cuts. I normally use pork chops no more than 1/3 inch thick. For thicker pork chops, I either cut in half or, my method of choice, take out my aggression and flatten it with a mallet.
- If frying, use flour or cornstarch. This will prevent the outside from burning and drying out. It also provides a nice crust when fried.
- Do not overcook. Thin cuts of pork chops cook up quickly — 4 to 7 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Walking away to watch How I Met Your Mother is not recommended.
- Brush pork chop with scallion oil when ready to serve. Not only will this keep the pork chops from drying out, but it also produces a wonderful aroma.
Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops
(Thit Heo Suon Nuong Xa)
- 5 small bone-in pork chops no more than 1/3 inch thick (1-3/4 to 2 lbs)
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon pork stock powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup minced lemongrass
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/3 cup cornstarch plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil if frying
- Combine fish sauce, oyster sauce, pork stock powder, sugar, black pepper, lemongrass and garlic in a large bowl and mix well.
- Add pork chops to the mixture and marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight in fridge for best results.
- You can either grill or pan fry. To pan-fry, add pork chop and corn starch in a plastic bag or large bowl and mix well. Heat up frying pan with enough vegetable oil to generously coat the bottom of pan (about 3 tablespoons). Fry for about 3-6 minutes per side depending on thickness. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or a wired rack to drain off excess oil.