Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Burmese red pork stew

I love it when you read a recipe and can tell exactly how it's going to taste. I love it even more when that taste is something you've been looking for but couldn't really find or articulate. This is one of those recipes, discovered in last September's Bon Appetit. For a kid who grew up in Southeast Asia, this is comfort food at its absolute finest.

But a word of caution, if you couldn't tell by the ominous appearance, it is not for the faint of heart. It's intensely spicy, salty, and porky (my faves, eee!). The heat is pretty strong, but the final dish is not nearly too spicy for us. The sambal oelek and chili oil function as major players in the flavor profile rather than just agents of spiciness (you should be able to find both at any upscale grocer, and many options of each at your local Asian market). That being said, I definitely wouldn't prepare this for anyone who couldn't handle some heat.

Like my mom's stew chicken, caramelized sugar provides the foundation for this dish. Add to that the sheer deliciousness of just garlic, ginger, chili, and just a little soy sauce, and the final dish is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I altered only slightly to streamline and am pretty happy with my decisions, so here is my inauthentic version. It does need to be started a day in advance and will take up to 2 hours to braise, but it's pretty hands-off once you get it going. I served with broiled Brussels sprouts because it was easy, but the cabbage was actually a really good match with the stew.

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chili oil
1 lb pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed and cut into ~1-2" chunks

4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 1/2 tbsp hot chili paste (such as the sambal oelek linked above)

1/3 cup white sugar
1 tbsp water

1/2 cup white rice, boiled then steamed up nice and fluffy

3 or 4 scallions, finely sliced

Whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili oil in a non-reactive bowl. Add the pork, toss well to coat, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Don't be tempted to salt and pepper. You will regret it.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 275 degrees. In a medium sized Dutch oven (with a lid), heat a drizzle of vegetable oil. Dab the pork chunks dry on paper towels (you won't have much left, but save the marinade) and brown deeply on all sides. Once browned, add the remaining dribble of marinade to the pot as well as the garlic, ginger, and hot chili paste. Turn the heat to low, cover, and let that just hang out for a minute.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and tablespoon of water. Caramelize the sugar over medium heat, swirling to mix (no spoons), until dark amber (but don't really burn it, like making stew chicken). Pour the caramel over the pork. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the saucepan and dissolve any remaining caramel, then pour over the pork as well. Stir to make sure it's all combined and dissolved, cover with the lid, and braise until the pork is very tender, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Take it out and stir every half hour, topping off with a couple tablespoons of water if it gets too dry. It's not a dish that yields much "sauce", but the liquid that clings to the pork is so pungent you really won't be looking for more.

Consume over steamed rice and sprinkle with scallions. Ho yeah!! 

Serves 2 gluttons, 3 normal people (but make 3/4 cup of rice if you're serving 3).


  1. I made this using country style pork rib meat, cut into chunks. I tripled the recipe so I'd have enough for 4 plus leftovers. OMG, it was delicious. Not as spicy as I feared, though plenty of heat. Thanks

  2. Glad you liked it! I know, it's amazing how much the heat mellows out.

  3. Thanks for posting this, it is amazingly delicious.

  4. I made the ski house version. Put everything in crock pot, went skiing, and came back to the most delicious aroma and stew! Perfect amount of spice to take the chill out. Thanks