Modern Pantry part two: thit heo kho or Vietnamese pork

There I was, only yesterday, saying how I thought that The Modern Pantry Cookbook was, despite first impressions, full of wonderful ideas and here I am today cooking one of them. I grant you that I chose this recipe because it had only 12 ingredients, one of which is water. I also admit that I neither cooked the suggested three accompaniments, nor bought them to go with it. However, despite my lack of commitment to the full effect this simple version is just brilliant. I have never heard of thit heo kho before so I was full of excitement about this ‘new’ discovery. Then, of course, I went online and found that it’s practically the Vietnamese equivalent of sweet and sour pork and I am just a dunce. But no wonder it’s so loved, and so well known; it’s delicious. And I bet that, even if you can’t pronounce it or spell it, you will definitely be able to cook it. All you do is brown the pork in a casserole, bung everything else in on top then leave it in the oven for about 40 minutes. Faster than calling the local takeaway.

Thit Heo Keo (adapted from The Modern Pantry Cookbook)

For two portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
garlic cloves, 2
vegetable oil (something like sunflower), a little for frying

Shopping list
diced pork shoulder, or pork shoulder steaks 500g
shallots, 2
whole star anise, 3
Chinese five-spice powder, ½ tablespoon
light soy sauce, 60ml
palm sugar, 50g (substitute soft dark brown sugar if you can’t get palm)
fish sauce, 2 tablespoons
fresh coriander leaves, a handful for garnish
spring onions, 2
basmati rice, to serve

How to
1. Preheat the oven to 140ºC/120ºC fan-assisted/gas 1.
2. If not already diced, cut the pork up into small cubes (2cm ones if possible); I find using kitchen scissors is the quickest way to do this.
3. Prep everything else: peel and chop the garlic and shallots, trim and chop the spring onions, rinse the coriander leaves and, if using, chop the palm sugar up into small pieces.
4. Heat a little vegetable oil in an ovenproof, lidded casserole dish and brown the pork a little at a time (if you throw it all in at once and crowd the pan it will steam rather than brown). Once all the pork is browned, take it out of the casserole and put to one side.
5. Put 180ml cold water into the casserole and stir to deglaze the surface of all the nice caramelised brown bits.
6. Return the pork to the casserole with the shallots, garlic, star anise, five-spice powder, light soy sauce, palm sugar and fish sauce. Stir to mix (if the liquid doesn’t come halfway up the meat add a little more water; I didn’t do this because I didn’t read the instruction…it was still very yummy and juicy).
7. Put the lid on the casserole and cook in the oven until the meat is tender (about 40 minutes in my case).
8. If you are having rice, cook it about 15 minutes before the end of the casserole’s cooking time.
9. Once the casserole is done, serve in bowls with plenty of juice and chopped spring onions and coriander sprinkled over the top.

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