There are two givens in the tiny northern Arizona town where I live: it is windy (always, every year, without fail) from March until June, and you learn to cook with what you can find at the one (one!) grocery store in town.
This means your hair is always a mess, and you learn to live with the fact that you can't always get what you want (thanks, Rolling Stones).Sourcing specific ingredients in this one-horse town is often a challenge, and my patience was tested again recently when I tried to hunt down flank steak for the cold Vietnamese rice noodle salad, bun.
Yes, I realize any old protein will do - I've made it with grilled shrimp, grilled chicken and grilled pork, which is what I ended up using this go-round, but I had my heart set on flank steak (it's just my favorite) and was a bit peeved when I couldn't find it. I might have tweeted, "This town has no flank steak = this town makes me crazy," or something to that effect ...
But as a grown adult, I'm forced to admit that it's not always a good thing to get everything we want, when we want it. It makes us ungrateful and we can become complacent and unappreciative of what is available to us. Getting everything we want, when we want keeps us from challenging ourselves to come up with something good with what we have.
I've learned more life lessons in the kitchen, I swear.
Driving home after work today I realized, with pleasure, that the whipping wind had subsided to a gentle breeze. Why not enjoy my salad outside while I blogged? It could be the last gentle evening we experience for some time.
Ask Mick Jagger, he'll tell you - you can't always get what you want, but it you try sometimes, you get what you need. As the days grow warmer, this cold noodle salad with it's zingy Nuoc Cham (an essential condiment that is a bright and spicy mix of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors) and grilled pork is exactly what I need.
Bun Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork with Vermicelli)
- 1.5 lb pork butt or shoulder, or pork loin, thinly sliced just under 1/4 inch or so
- 1/4 cup minced Lemongrass (xa bam)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tbs ground pepper
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 shallots, minced
- 3 tbs sesame oil
- 2 tbs thick soy sauce (not regular soy sauce, you can substitute with caramel sauce, both can be found at Asian groceries)
- 3 tbs roasted sesame seeds
Place the sliced pork in a ziplock bag. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour the marinade over the pork and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.
Heat a grill to medium-high and oil the grates well. Remove the pork from the marinade and discard the marinade. Try to brush as much of the garlic off the meat as you can, as it will burn when it hits the hot grill. If you're using a lean cut of pork like the loin, you want to cook the meat hot and fast, one to two minutes per side, then remove from the grill and let the meat rest. Fattier cuts of pork like the shoulder can go a minute or two longer. Keep an eyeball on it - this are thin slices of meat and they will dry out easily. Sprinkle the resting meat with sesame seeds.
I serve my bun with the following:
- cooked rice noodles, rinsed with cold water
- finely chopped romaine lettuce
- julienned cucumber
- chopped peanuts
- hoisin sauce
- a few tablespoons of Nuoc Cham (recipe below)
Nuoc Cham Recipe
- 1 (or more) Thai chile, with seeds, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons grated peeled ginger
- 2½ teaspoons sugar
- ⅓ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
Combine chile, garlic, ginger, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce in a small bowl. Season with more chile and sugar, if desired, or add water by the tablespoon if needed to soften flavors.