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. On top of that, you also add a bit more fat.
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. She also gets pork fat, free of charge, of which she cuts up into tiny cubes and adds them to the ground pork. It's really all about that pork fat to get that perfect texture in Nem Nuong.
I usually save the fat from my pork trimmings and store them in the freezer. Once I have enough, I take them out to make either Nem Nuong or fried pork fat (tep mo) as a tasty topping to my noodle dishes.
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.
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 and garlic.
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.
In my recipe below, I’m baking my Nem Nuong as a large sheet. I find this to be much easier than rolling them into balls or wrapping them on skewers. Once my Nem Nuong is done, I slice it up into long strips to either eat on its own or as a component to any of the delicious dishes mentioned above.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage (Nem Nuong)
Last updated: 9/25/2019
- 2-1/2 lbs fatty ground pork (partially frozen)
- 5 oz pork fat trimmings (cut into small cubes; partially frozen)
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 bulb garlic (peel cloves and chop roughly)
- 1 large shallot (peel and chop roughly)
- 1 tablespoon roasted rice powder
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 packet Alsa baking powder
- 1/4 cup Tusino nem nuong curing powder
- 1 cup ice
- Food processor
- Break off partially frozen ground pork and pork fat and place them into the food processor. Add sugar, fish sauce, garlic, shallot, rice powder, corn starch, baking powder, curing powder and ice. Process for about 10 minutes on high until you get a smooth, light pink, homogeneous pork paste.
- Using rubber gloves, spread pork paste on a large baking sheet, one-inch in height.
- Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes. To get nice caramelization, turn the oven to broil for 5-10 minutes.
- Cut into stripes and serve on its own or part of other Vietnamese dishes.