caramelised pork and Vietnamese green mango salad

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This is my favourite summer creation thus far (and long may this sunny weather continue!).

I’ve been enamoured and have experimented with the Vietnamese dressing Nuoc cham for some time now. Not just because it is gluten free by nature – although such was the reason for eating many, many green papaya and mango salads dressed with the stuff while exploring the country. While the fish sauce, citrusy, sweet combination packs a refreshing flavour punch all of its own, it is all the more delicious for being accompanied by succulent pork and freshly roasted, crunchy caramel peanuts. Each element is impressive in its own right, and easily prepared in advance. This is the perfect dish to serve for a relaxed Sunday evening with friends alongside some rosé or riesling – or simply to have on hand for quick weekday dinners to cure back to work blues!

Slow cookers don’t lend themselves to being the most summery of cooking appliances, and I am forever wary of meat ending up with that homogenised, crock pot taste. Moreover, pulled pork became so ubiquitous a few years ago that it is easy to forget that while the dish is definitely overdone, it doesn’t have to taste that way. I often shy away from preparing pork at home because of its tendency to be dry, but slow cooking a (cheap!) fatty cut of it makes it impossible not to melt in your mouth. Drawing inspiration from Mexican carnitas, caramelising the pork in the fry pan renders the fat of the pork for ridiculously good crispy bits. Who needs a microwave for reheating?

At home we don’t tend to add carbs in as an element to our dinners, however I think this would work well with some cooked rice noodles alongside the salad, should you feel the need for such things. We tend to simple compensate with ice creams before and/or after – utterly mandatory in this heat!

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Makes plenty for four hungry people.

crispy lemongrass pulled pork on Vietnamese green mango salad

Ingredients:

  • 1.2kg pork shoulder, bone in
  • 1/4 cup (2oz) sweet chilli sauce
  • 4 lemon grass stalks, roughly chopped
  • 4 shallots, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • Plenty of salt to season

Vietnamese salad:

  • 2 green mangos (look for one that is completely unripe), grated
  • 4 zucchinis, spiralized or julienned
  • 1/2 red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
  • 1 handful fresh coriander, finely chopped

Dressing:

  • Juice of 4 limes (equivalent to around 4 tbsp)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown or palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 fresh chilli, finely chopped

Caramelised peanuts:

  • 100g raw peanuts
  • 100g sugar
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. In a large nonstick fry pan, brown the pork shoulder on all sides over high heat.
  2. While the pork is browning, make the lemongrass paste by combining the remaining pork ingredients in a food processor and pulsing until combined. Place the pork in a slow cooker, slathering with the fragrant mixture to coat it. Turn the heat to high and leave to cook for 4-5 hours, or 7-8 on a low heat setting if you’re heading out to work.
  3. When the pork is ready, it should fall apart when pulled with a fork. Cool the pork for about half an hour before transferring the meat to a large bowl or container to pull it. Leave the fatty pieces of pork and cooking liquid behind. With two forks, shred the pork into small pieces. 
  4. Pour over about half of the leftover liquid from cooking on top of the pork to keep it moist. Discard the fat and remaining liquid. Store the pulled pork in the fridge for up to 2-3 days before ready to assemble the salad.

Vietnamese salad:

  1. Combine the mango, zucchini and cabbage in a large bowl.
  2. Make the dressing in a jar – simply add all the ingredients to it and shake to mix completely. Taste test to check the balance of flavour and add extra of anything as needed.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad up to an hour before serving. Toss well to ensure all the vegetables are covered. The dressing will soften the vegetables slightly, so I like to add the mung beans right before serving to ensure they stay crunchy.

Caramelised peanuts:

  1. Set oven to 175C/350F bake. Line a small baking or roasting dish with baking paper and spread the peanuts out evenly. Roast for 15-20 minutes until turning brown and fragrant. Check on them frequently as they can burn very easily!
  2. Remove from heat and set aside to cool before chopping or processing into rough size pieces. Return them to the baking paper lined tray.
  3. Make the caramel in a small saucepan with the sugar and a tablespoon of sugar. Stir well to combine and then over medium heat, leave to boil and bubble until turning golden. Remove from heat and pour over the chopped, roasted nuts. Sprinkle with sea salt. Leave to harden – this takes around 20 minutes or so.
  4. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve. These keep well for up to a week, so can easily be made in advance.

Assembly:

  1. In a large, nonstick frypan, reheat the pork over high heat to caramelise the shredded edges.
  2. While the pork is cooking, arrange the salad in bowls and pound the caramelised peanuts into rough pieces with a mortar and pestle. Top the salad with the warmed meat, chopped coriander and caramel peanuts. Serve immediately.

Make it meal prep friendly:

  1. Prep the pork, salad, dressing and caramelised peanuts separately. Assemble as needed.
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