In Part 2 of our recent interview with Starry Kitchen's Thi Tran, the chef referred to her Vietnamese braised coconut pork as her favorite dish on her menu. It's easy to see why. Braised pork is a wonderful thing in almost any form, but the coconut adds a lightness and gentle sweetness that is difficult to resist. Tran's preferred method of consumption (or “vessel”) is on top of coconut rice, which rounds the dish out surprisingly well considering the ingredient overlap.

Tran's husband and restaurant co-conspirator Nguyen emailed to tell us: “just remember this dish is served in EVERY Viet home around the world and there are a TON of variations & recipes on this common dish.” Thi's version takes on some Chinese influence, but also, as usual, some personal flair.

Braised Coconut Pork (a.k.a. Vietnamese “Thit Kho”)

From: Starry Kitchen's Thi Tran

Serves: 6-8

2 pounds Pork Picnic/Shoulder or Pork Belly

3 or more eggs (whatever your preference)

2 cloves of minced garlic

4 slices of ginger

2 tablespoons minced yellow or white onions

2 tablespoons minced lemongrass (frozen or fresh — if fresh, use the white parts only)

2 tablespoons Chinese “light” soy sauce (Tran uses Pearl River Bridge brand)

1.5 tablespoons Chinese “dark” soy sauce (Tran uses Pearl River Bridge brand)

1/4 cup Coke

1/2 can coco soda (Tran uses Coco Rico) or coconut juice (about 3/4 cup)

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup coconut milk (Tran prefers Kara Brand, but you can use whatever is available to you)

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce (Tran prefers 3 Crab brand)

1 tablespoon thick caramel sauce (or you can make your own — instructions below — with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water)

some palm sugar or rock sugar

1. Cut meat into cubes (around 1″ x 1″ pieces, not too big).

2. Boil a pot of water (enough for all of the meat you cut), and then pre-boil the cubed pork for 5 minutes with 2 slices of ginger.

3. Remove the pork and rinse (and make sure to fully cool all pieces) under cold water to wash away the scum. Set aside.

4. In a sauce pan, sauté the remainder of the 2 slices of ginger, minced garlic, minced onions, and lemongrass until fragrant. Set aside.

5. To make your own caramel sauce, on medium heat, combine sugar and water in a sauce pan and allow it to melt. Once the sugar melts completely, the mixture will slowly start to turn a golden brown color. Keep swirling the pan until the caramel becomes a light brown color. Remove from heat and set aside.

6. In a pot, combine the Chinese light soy sauce, Chinese dark soy sauce, fish sauce, and caramel sauce with the cubed pork. Toss well and add the sauté ingredients.

7. Add all the liquids (Coke, coco soda or coconut juice, chicken broth, water, and coconut milk) to the pot. Make sure the liquid covers the meat. Turn on high heat and wait until it boils, once it boils, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour.

8. Meanwhile, boil the eggs — separately — for 8-9 minutes.

9. When they are ready, immediately chill the eggs in an ice water bath (this helps in the peeling). Once chilled, remove the shells and set aside

10. Add the eggs into the pot after 1 hour of cooking the pork, and braise for 1 more hour, or until tender. Total time of cooking should be 2 hours.

11. Add and dissolve palm/rock sugar to taste. It should be a little sweet, but not too sweet.

12. Garnish with some scallions or cilantro.

13. Enjoy pork and eggs (sliced or whole) with steamed rice or bread. Top with the stew and serve.

LA Weekly