Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vietnamese-style caramel pork...minus the sugar



I know that I've hit on a really great recipe when the meal is eaten in complete silence. The husband ate three of these pork chops without speaking at all, except to ask, "Are there any more of these??"; then when he was done, he just said, "Those have a really good flavor". So, I feel that I can confidently pronounce these a success.

I've had grilled pork chops (suon nuong) at Vietnamese restaurants several times and it's one of my favorite menu items. However, it is usually made with lots of sugary caramel sauce. For my version, I used some Torani sugar-free caramel syrup in the marinade. I'm not usually a fan of this stuff because it lacks the gooey texture of real caramel sauce but it worked perfectly for achieving the flavor I sought. I also added a spoonful of real sugar to help it caramelize on the grill, but this does not raise the carb or calorie count too much, particularly given that most of the marinade is discarded. If you do not eat Splenda (and I usually avoid it as well), you can try making your own sugar-free caramel syrup. Just follow my recipe for sugar-free maple syrup using the sweetener of your choice, and substitute 1/2-3/4 tsp caramel extract for the maple + vanilla extracts. I have not tried this myself but I think it would work, and Silver Cloud is my favorite brand for extracts (their vanilla and almond are the best I've ever tried!).

I served it with cauli rice, a fried egg, and some salad veggies. I also passed Sriracha and crushed peanuts at the table. Next time I will also serve with extra nuoc cham for dipping.

VIETNAMESE CARAMEL PORK CHOPS
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
  • About 1 lb of thin-cut bone-in pork chops (I used center cut)
  • 1/4 cup lemongrass, roughly chopped (I used two stalks, tough parts removed)
  • 1/2 cup shallots, roughly chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (can substitute soy sauce in a pinch but the flavor will not be as good)
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free caramel syrup (see recipe description for more info)
  • 1 Tbs coconut palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • Roasted salted peanuts or cashews, chopped
DIRECTIONS
  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the pork chops and nuts. Process until smooth.
  2. Cover the pork chops evenly with the marinade and refridgerate overnight.
  3. When ready to cook the pork chops, wipe off the marinade with a paper towel but do not rinse. Cook on a hot grill until done. I used a George Foreman grill; I cooked them for 6 minutes, flipped them over, then cooked for an additional 2 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with crushed peanuts or cashews and serve, passing Sriracha sauce at the table. If desired, also serve with a fried egg.

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