Lemongrass Grilled Pork (Thit Nuong)

Lemongrass is a perennial native of India but cultivated worldwide for its oil for medicinal, culinary, or cosmetic applications among a multitude of other uses.  The lemongrass stalk itself, though very tough, is commonly finely crushed or chopped and used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  I personally like it because it’s very fragrant with a refreshing lemony taste, but more delicate and subtle than citrus zests as I’m very sensitive to bitter flavors.

It pairs well with seafood, chicken and pork and is good for a variety of curries, soups, marinades, or tea recipes.  But it’s hard to find fresh lemongrass in my neighborhood grocery stores so I’ve long contemplated growing my own.  Is it wrong to fantasize about access to fresh herbs on demand?  I have an okay green thumb for ornamental plants, but a complete black thumb when it comes to gardening for food.  I have never ever succeeded in growing anything edible but since lemongrass is a grass, maybe, just maybe?

Growing lemongrass (among other herbs I frequently use) is fairly high on the list of things I would like to do (when I have the time or energy), but it had been very low on the list of priorities to-dos.  However, lately there has been a lot of news about Zika carrying mosquitoes.  I suppose these news are more scary for pregnant or planning to be pregnant women, but either way, it seems the demand for mosquito repelling plants are up, because I am seeing more and more citronella grass, lemon balm, catmint (catnip), marigolds, lavender, and garlic, just to name a few, for sale with “MOSQUITO PLANT” signs or labels (which I assume means these plants help repel mosquitoes rather than attract them).

So what does this have to do with growing lemongrass?  Lemongrass is also a top mosquito repelling plant.  So maybe growing lemongrass, now with the additional purpose of protecting my dinky-a-roo and family from nasty bites, has very good reason to move up on my priority to-dos list?

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Recipe

Adapted from one of my favorite blogs for Vietnamese cuisine The Ravenous Couple 

Ingredients

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 01

  • 1.5 lb pork butt or shoulder
  • 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp thick soy sauce*
  • 3 tbsp roasted sesame

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 02

*Note thick soy sauce is a different product than regular soy sauce.  It is thick and rich and has molasses.  This was another product I had difficulty finding so there are several jars sitting my pantry.

Directions

The hardest part of this recipe might be finding all the ingredients but otherwise, it’s fairly easy and can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  The below piece of pork butt was approximately 3 lbs and for our small family, was 6 meals worth of meat.  We ate one fresh and froze 5 for the rest of the month.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 01

Cut meat into 2 to 3 inch pieces of approximately 1/4 inch thickness.  Optional, hand tenderize the pieces.  If you have quality meat, this is totally unnecessary.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 03

Mix all ingredients except for the sesame seeds for marinade.

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 03

Marinade for at least an hour up to a day.  If freezing, I just place each meal portion into a plastic bag and then put them directly into the freezer without waiting for it to marinade.  The time it takes to freeze and defrost is sufficient for meat to marinade.

Lemongrass Pork Marinate

Grill until golden and slightly charred.  Alternatively, bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit/ 148.9 degrees Celsius until done, approximately 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve hot with vermicelli or rice. I find it best served with mild or sweeter sides as the meat can be on the saltier side.

I was pensive about posting this recipe because the only picture I have of the finished meal was actually of a flopped attempt.  I’m good with finding time to take pictures during the preparation process but always forget the finished product because by then, my attention is on making sure everyone is ready to eat while the food is still the right temperature.

The pieces pictured below were totally overcooked because I was too zealous about the hand tenderizing (there is something therapeutic with pounding with a hammer) and the pieces were thinner than ideal.  And then I did another cooking no-no, I stepped away from the grill and didn’t check on the pork until it was too late.  It still tasted okay, but was not juicy as usual.  But like my putting growing lemongrass off again and again, until news of Zika gave me additional reason to do it, I decided the same for this post, if not now, when?

Lemongrass Pork

In addition to Tom Yum soup, another recently discovered family favorite with fragrant lemongrass is Melissa’s Curry Chicken.  Thank you Melissa for the recipe!

Next time you’re grilling, will you give this recipe a try?  And if you have lemongrass growing in your yard, there might even be less uninvited pests at your BBQ.

Cheers!

with love charlie