That pun doesn’t really work unless you know what this is:
Thit kho, is what it is. And what it is, is caramelised pork belly, stewed with spices in coconut juice.
There’s nothing in that preceding sentence that I dislike (apart from the slightly odd syntax.)
This is yet another dish which is redolent of my childhood. It’s the sort of everyday cooking which is an unsung hero of Vietnamese food. Like congee, this is the sort of recipe which you find variants of across South-East Asia. Like any other stew, this is an adaptable recipe. If pork belly isn’t your thing (well, if pork belly isn’t your thing, frankly, we can forget being friends) substitute for chunks of fried tofu; mackerel; salmon steaks; or chicken wings and thighs. Add some hard-boiled eggs in if you’re feeling saucy.
A few notes: like all stew recipes, the variations are endless. If you can’t get hold of coconut juice (which is the clear liquid from the middle of a coconut), plain water will do nicely. Don’t be tempted to substitute with coconut milk. These are different beasts entirely. I’ve specified brown sugar which imparts a deeper, more complex note to the caramel but white sugar works just as well. I’ve opted for cinnamon as my spice of choice but any combination of szechuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves or five spice would do as well. Finally, Chinese rice wine is the traditional choice for this dish but any white spirit or wine will do just as well.
pork belly slices, chopped into large chunks
1 can of coconut juice
nuoc mam (Thai fish sauce)
bird’s eye chillies
a cinnamon stick
a few cloves of garlic
two spring onions, sliced into large pieces
Finely chop the garlic and slice the onions and gently fry in some olive oil until golden and caramelised. Remove from the pan and put to one side. In a large pan or wok, heat up two tablespoons of oil and add in two tablespoons of sugar. Once the sugar has melted and browned, carefully add in the pork belly. The idea is to coat the meat in the caramel and seal to get a lovely brown coating. Drain off any excess oil and add in the pre-fried onions and garlic and the spring onions as well.
Cover with the coconut juice (or water), add in one or two bird’s eye chillies (according to taste and bravery) and your spices and simmer on a gentle heat for 45-60 minutes. Keep checking and adding more liquid if needed. The result should be a dark brown, treacly sauce and meat which falls apart on the fork. Serve with steamed rice and either slices of pineapple or cucumber.