Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)
When I feel like torturing the neighbors, I take out the grill and cook up Nem Nướng, Vietnamese grilled pork sausage. I waft the aroma of this tasty Vietnamese sausage into their yard. That is what you get for taking my parking!
For those who enjoy this tasty Vietnamese sausage and would like to quickly make it at home, you can find premade Nem Nuong in the frozen aisle of many Asian supermarkets. They are already seasoned. All you have to do is put them on sewers or roll them into balls. You can grill them up as intended. You can also bake or steam them. The premade Nem Nuong tastes exactly like the restaurant version. The only downside to using premade Nem Nuong is not knowing exactly what's in the pork, which can be scary to some people. Of course, buying premade Nem Nuong is not why you are here, right? Keep reading, my friend!
If you want a little bit more control over the seasoning, you can make Nem Nuong from scratch. Nem Nuong is all about texture. That texture comes from a high amount of fat (Yep. This is why it tastes so good!) and grinding the pork into a paste. To get that perfect texture, select ground pork with at least 20% fat. I believe the highest is 30%. Then be flirtatious as possible and ask the butcher if they can run it through the grinder again. If they refuse (which is usually the case), you can still achieve the pork paste by putting the ground pork in a food processor. Grind it for a few minutes until you get a sticky homogeneous mixture.
My mother-in-law, who is bestie with her butcher and who fears mystery meats in premade ground pork, prefers to get a slab of fatty pork shoulder/butt and then have her butcher friend grind it up twice. But she doesn't stop there. She also gets pork fat, free of charge, of which she cuts up into tiny cubes and adds them to the freshly ground ground pork. It's really all about that pork fat to get that perfect texture in Nem Nuong. For those who are also besties with the butcher, it is 1-part fatty pork shoulder/butt to 1/4-part pork fat.
(I also checked in with my mom on how she prepares Nem Nuong to which she replied that I shouldn't ask such ridiculousness because she's a vegetarian for a full year now and I should know better. Gotta love mom!)
Almost every Nem Nuong recipe you look up online has baking powder. The use of baking powder, specifically Alsa baking powder, puffs up the meat. This makes it appear more voluminous when it's served in restaurants. It also contributes to the the springy texture. In my recipe below, I omitted the baking powder because the curing powder that I used had a bit of baking powder in it already.
To get the right flavor in Nem Nuong, I use a bit of Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder. Not only does the curing powder provide the signature pink color (from the added dye and sodium nitrite) but it also provides that unique cured flavor.
I had many times tried to make Nem Nuong without the use of Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder. The reason I avoided it for the longest time was because of the preservatives, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Both additives had been under fire on whether they cause cancer in humans. However, after doing some research, I wouldn't worry too much about its use. One, it's been approved by the FDA and its use in cured meats is very minimal. Two, these additives are also found in hot dogs, sandwich meat, bacon, and naturally in many vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and celery. So unless you are avoiding all these foods, I wouldn't worry.
According to the package instructions, you can use the curing powder as the only seasoning in the meat to get the Nem Nuong flavor. You can also add minced garlic, if preferred. However, I'm not one to use only one ingredient for a marinade, especially one that is a possible human carcinogen in high concentration (can't be too safe!). So for my Nem Nuong recipe, I like to use a bit of the curing powder (much less than the package instructions) in addition to fish sauce, sugar, garlic... and unfortunately another highly controversial ingredient, MSG.
Nem Nướng is served in a variety of ways. For the lazies, you can have them with steamed white rice and a side of fresh or pickled vegetables. At the restaurants, you can have Nem Nướng wrapped in rice paper (Nem Nướng Cuốn) with a side of the signature orange Nem Nướng dipping sauce. You can also have Nem Nướng with rice noodles (Bún Nem Nướng). In a Vietnamese deli, you can have it in a sandwich (Bánh Mì Nem Nướng). However you have it, it's a classic dish that will surely give you a unique taste of Vietnam. It's not the healthiest of meats, but it sure is damn delicoius.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nướng)
2 lbs ground pork with at least 20% fat (have the butcher ground the pork twice or chop in a food processor until you get a smooth paste)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (available in the spice section in Asian supermarkets)
3 tablespoons Tusino Nem Nuong curing powder
1 teaspoon MSG
To the ground pork, add sugar, fish sauce, garlic, roasted rice powder, curing powder and MSG. Mix well.
Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge for best results.
Oil up your hands with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Add the marinated ground pork to skewers or roll them into balls.
Grill or bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes.