Vietnamese Restaurant Style Bun Thit Nuong Recipe
You simply cannot believe how long I’ve been working to master this. I have literally read every blog online, tried every recipe option and been to the local Asian grocery store Fubon more times than I can count (and logged more hours there searching for things there than I care to mention). Living in Portland, Oregon, with a large Vietnamese community, I’ve had the benefit of enjoying many variations of Bun Thit Nuong at local Vietnamese restaurants. While small things may change, one thing is consistent- a general “Restauranunt Style” flavor that we all know and want but have an exceptionally difficult time replicating; now this is no more- the secret is out, read on to discover.
Before we begin
This is going to sound weird, but one wrong move and you mess this dish up. Seriously, a slice too thick, the wrong type of ingredient (PLENTY of examples below), the wrong noodles or cooking them too long and you mess the whole thing up, so read carefully.
Where do you start?
It begins with the meat; Pork Butt is the classic I use.
You may read that you buy the pork butt and slice it thin but the problem is that you have to slice it real thin, less than ¼ of an inch- any thicker and you ruin the dish (I typically slice between 1/8 and ¼). I use a meat slice for this rather than pounding the meat out.
The best way I’ve found to slice is just put the whole pork butt on its side and slice it thin. The pieces may seem big, but when you grill them, they will shrink. With meat thinly sliced, it’s all about the marinade.
A lemongrass marinade is the usual go-to marinade for most Vietnamese restaurants; it’s what is used on the grilled pork or beef.
Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Recipe
1.5 lb pork butt, thinly sliced just under 1/4 inch or so (not too thin as you do not want it to dry out when grilled. Ask your butcher to do this for you. Also, do not use lean pork as it will become dry.)
1/4 cup minced Lemongrass (xa bam). Many Asian markets will sell minced lemongrass in the freezer section.
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs fish sauce (Squid brand, this is the cheap stuff and what most restaurants use)
1 tbs ground pepper (don’t eye this, measure it out)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (not from a jar, mince this garlic fresh in a mini prep, you can mince with the shallots at the same time)
2 small shallots
3 tbs sesame oil
1 ¼ tbs Vietnamese Caramel sauce. (Most recipes call for thick soy sauce, DON’T USE THIS!!!!! Use caramel sauce, trust me, the risk of finding the right thick soy sauce is just too high and expensive and soy paste is definitely not the right item to use though you may read about it a lot- Vietnamese caramel sauce can be found at Asian groceries- if you are not close to an Asian grocery store, use this recipe to make the caramel sauce at home).
To prepare this marinade, I use a mini-prep. Begin by dropping the garlic cloves and shallots into the mini prep and mince by pressing the button 3 or 4 times.
Next, add lemongrass, sugar, fish sauce, pepper, sesame oil and caramel sauce. Again, press the mince button, 3 or 4 times to blend the ingredients.
Once blended, transfer to a bowl with the pork and marinade for about 4 hours in the fridge. While this marinades, you can prepare the other items.
The “all important “ Fish Sauce (nuoc cham)
The fish sauce is a bit mysterious. Beware of the many recipes for this posted online, many are just plain wrong- primarily, they don’t have the right color, are too fancy and just don’t taste like the fish sauce you get in the restaurants. Keep in mind, that the restaurants are businesses, necessity rules in most cases- the more ingredients the lower the profit margin. So with that said the fish sauce recipe is simple but has TWO parts.
For a 1 gallon mix of fish sauce:
1 gal HOT water (near boiling)
2 cups sugar
16 ounces of Squid brand fish sauce
1/2 cup of freshly minced garlic
3/4 cup DISTILLED vinegar
2 tablespoons chili garlic paste
Stir well and refrigerate until very cold (will take a few hours while the meat is marinating)
The second part pertains to the individual serving of the sauce. The fish sauce is served in about a ½ to ¾ cup small bowl. In this bowl, add two items and let sit for about an hour:
10 carrots (sliced to be matchstick size)
¼ teaspoon garlic chili paste
Again, let the individual portions of fish sauce sit refrigerated for about an hour, then at room temperature for a little while before serving. This very closely mimics the flavor from the restaurant, as the sauce is refrigerated at first and then sits out for a while at room temperature before being served.
The “Bowl” Vegetables
1 cucumber sliced into strips (use a mandolin for this, NOT matchstick strips but the next size up)
½ carrot sliced into matchstick strips (again, use a mandolin for this)
1 6oz package of Buttery Lettuce and Lola Rossa Mix
10 mint leaves, sliced in half
2 large Perilla (tia to) leaves
1 cup crushed UNSALTED peanuts (I use a mortar and pestle to crush these fresh)
3 sprigs of Cilantro per bowl
Pickled Carrot and Daikon strips (8 strips of each per bowl sliced to the same size as the cucumbers described above) This is the recipe I use to pickle, the longer you pickle these, the better they’ll taste in your dish:
– 2 pounds carrots (about 5 medium sized carrots), peeled
– 2 pounds of daikon radishes (about 2 large daikon), peeled
– 1 cup plus 4 teaspoons of sugar
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
– 2 cups warm water (warm enough to easily dissolve sugar)
– About 5 pint jars
Scallion Oil, recipe is below:
– 4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (1 cup)
– 1/4 cup canola oil
– Have the scallions ready in a bowl so they may be quickly added to the oil. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Test the oil by dropping in a scallion slice; it should sizzle on contact. Add the scallions, and stir immediately to expose them quickly to the oil. When the scallions have collapsed and are soft, after about 30 seconds.
Preparing the Noodles
Boil water and place vermacilli noodles in the water for 5 minutes.
Empty noodles into a strainer and rinse with cold water just until the noodles are no longer hot, do not over rinse.
Let the noodles sit for about 10 minutes while boiling another pot of water. Once second water pot comes to a boil, drop noodles in for 1 minute to reheat, again pour noodles into a strainer, rinse again in the same manner described before. Dry noodles with a paper towel (quickly) and then place in bowl over vegetable mix. Pour 1 tablespoon of scallion oil over the noodles.
Don’t Forget the Spring Rolls
Heat on the stove a pan full of peanut oil and pick up a pack of small vegetable spring rolls from your Asian grocery (most restaurants use Deer Brand). Bring peanut oil to a boil and drop in 8 spring rolls (2 per bowl). Deep fry until golden brown and floating. Remove and place in a warming drawer (like your stove to 140 degrees) to use in final bowl assembly.
Cookin’ the meat
Now that the meat is marinated, remove from fridge and lay out strips on a meat cage. Preheat outdoor grill (ONLY USE A GRILL do not fry, this is key) and when ready (grill on high) place the meat cage on grill and cook.
The fattiness of the pork butt will cause flame ups, which are good for flavor, but keep an eye not to burn the meat, flip meat cage often in different directions. I will actually open the meat cage after a while and pull the center pieces out (especially if cooking on a gas grill where there can be “hot” spots) so that I can cook them all the way through in the corners.
When meat is cooked, it will look firm and done. Turn off the grill and let meat sit for a bit with the lid close, the smoke will add good flavor and you can make the rest of the bull ready while this happens.
PER Bowl Assembly
¼ packaged lettuce, 2 mint leaves and ½ parilla leaf placed in the bottom of the bowl.
¼ of cooked noodles, placed on top of the vegetables listed above.
1 tbs of scallion oil poured over the center of the noodles
½ cup sliced cucumbers on one side of the bowl
2 spring rolls on the other side of the bowl, sliced into two pieces each
¼ of the crushed peanuts sprinkled over the noodles
8 strips each of pickled diakon and carrots in one corner of the bowl
¼ of the meat, sliced in half and placed in the center of the noodles on top of everything
Garnish with 3 sprigs of cilantro
Pour fish sauce mix over the top, stir and then EAT!