Today is 23 th December according to Lunar calendar. One more week to Vietnamese Tet or you might also know as Chinese Lunar New Year. We celebrate the same New Year with Chinese people.
Back to my memory about Tet, when I was a little young girl, Tet was the time that I was so excited because all members of my family would be together to prepare for Tet. We cook a lot of dishes, not only Banh Chung (Square cakes), but also many other dishes such as Vietnamese hams (my Dad would make at least three different types of ham) while my Mom prepared caramelized fish (Ca kho) etc. My parents got a long holiday for Tet (at least 2 weeks) so Tet to me was much longer than other kids.
When I was 18 and stayed away from home to study in Bangkok, that was the time that I knew Tet could not be such that two-week length. I even didn’t have Tet (even a day-off) because I still had class and exams during Tet. So at that time Tet was only on my mind. At first, I felt sad and missed my family so much. However, I found another way to celebrate Tet with my friends who also had the same feeling with me about Tet. We used to gather together and make a big party with a lot of Vietnamese food and activities so as we could fill up our heart for Tet. This dish – Thit kho Trung (Vietnamese Caramelized pork belly with quail eggs) was one of our favorite dishes.
Thit kho trung (Vietnamese caramelized pork belly with quail eggs) is not only very popular in Vietnamese daily meals, but also a traditional dish during Tet. I didn’t know how to cook this dish until I got to Bangkok and surprisingly, I was in charge of cooking Thit kho trung for our party every year. I guess now I could be an expert of Thit kho trung lol.
1. Ingredients: serves 4- 6 people
- 500 grams pork belly (1 lbs) ( It’s hard to find pork belly in an US grocery stores so you can substitute with pork shoulder. For some people who don’t like fat meat, you can mix pork belly and pork shoulder together).
- 15 – 20 quail eggs (If you cannot find quail eggs, you can substitute with about 4 -5 chicken eggs)
- 1 Tablespoon minced shallot
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 – 3 Tablespoons sugar
- Salt, pepper to taste
2. Process: It doesn’t take long to put all the ingredients together but it does need at least 30 minutes to cook slowly to make the pork belly tender.
- Hard boil quail eggs (or eggs):
- Put the eggs in the saucepan and cover with water. Bring it to boil with the lid covered. Turn the heat to simmer and cook for about 10 minutes for quail eggs, and 20 minutes for eggs.
- Take the eggs out and put in cold water for another 10 minutes to let the eggs cool down. So it would be easier for you to peel the egg shell.
- You can just put the eggs like this with pork belly or you can fry the eggs with Hi- med heat till the outside looks golden like in the below photo. If you choose to fry the eggs, when you eat, you’ll see the outside of the eggs would be a little more elastic and tasty and the color would look nicer.
- Clean pork belly and chop into big bites (probably 1 cm thick). Then marinate pork belly with fish sauce, pinch of salt and pepper, minced shallot in about 15 minutes.
- While the pork belly is set aside, prepare a saucepan to make caramel sauce:
- Preheat saucepan and put 2 Tablespoons sugar, melt it down with med-hi heat or until the sugar started to boil. It will turn to dark brown very soon.
- Add ¼ cup water to the saucepan (Please be careful at this step).
- Bring the caramel sauce to boil again and add the marinated pork belly in the saucepan. Put the lid on and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes.
- Then put the eggs and water to cover up the pork belly. Bring to boil and let it simmer in about 30 minutes. Come check often to see how the water is evaporated. Taste again, you can add more sugar, salt, or pepper as needed.
When it’s done, the pork belly should be tender and both eggs and pork belly looks golden brown because of the caramel color. I always leave some water left because now it becomes the caramelized sauce, which is delicious. The process is not so difficult, but the taste is so yummy. You can have dish with normal rice or sticky rice. (Here is the link to cook sticky rice by microwave). In addition, Thit kho trung goes very well with some kind of pickles (Please see this link to see how to make Vietnamese pickled mustard greens)
Having thit kho trung (caramelized pork belly with eggs) reminds me of those Tet(s) that I’d had with my friends when I studied in Bangkok. Those were the days <3.