Cơm tấm is one of Việt Nam’s quintessential street foods. On the streets of almost every major city in the country, you can find cơm tấm vendors shrouded in plumes of smoke as they grill marinated chops on charcoal-fed braziers breathing blister-ing-hot fire. They are true masters of the grill, as the chops are so thin that it takes deft hands to control the heat. It also takes the sharpest of cooking instincts to know precisely when to pull the chops off the flame before they dry out. At home, you can ensure juicy chops every time by first brining the meat for a day or two and then giving them a quick sear in butter. If you want to use thick-cut chops instead, sear them on each side, then place them in a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the center reaches 145°F. For plating, we suggest serving the chops with broken rice and a warm slice of chả trứng hấp (steamed pork and wood ear meat loaf).
4 bone-in pork chops (about ⅓ inch thick)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass (see below)
1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Red Boat Fish Sauce
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 to 6 cups cooked broken rice
All-Purpose Nước Chấm or Điệp Pham’s Nước Chấm
Chả Trứng Hấp (Steamed Egg Meat Loaf) (optional)
Pickled Cabbage (see below)
1. Place the pork chops, garlic, lemongrass, sugar, black pepper, and fish sauce in a large resealable bag. Squeeze as much air out as possible and seal the bag. Put the bag on a plate or tray and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
2. Place a medium (ideally, 12-inch) heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Once the butter starts to bubble and brown, add two pork chops to the pan, making sure they’re not too close to each other so they can sear properly (if they’re too close, the chops will steam instead of sear). Sear the chops until browned, about 2 to 4 minutes, then flip and sear the other sides for another 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Transfer the chops to a platter. Add 2 tablespoons water to deglaze the pan, using a silicone spatula to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Pour the pan juices over the chops.
4. Wipe the pan clean with a towel and repeat with the remaining chops and remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
5.To serve, place each pork chop over broken rice on a large plate, along with a small of bowl of nước chấm, a slice of chả trứng hấp, and some pickled cabbage.
HOW TO MINCE LEMONGRASS
Lemongrass stalks can be rather tough and woody, which is why it’s often strained out of a dish before serving. But if you mince the stalks as fine as possible, the lemongrass will meld into, say, a marinade, and won’t need to be removed before serving. Here’s how: Remove the dry outer layers of the lemongrass and wash off any residual dirt. Chop off and discard about ¼ inch of the lemongrass base. With a very sharp knife, thinly slice the lemongrass into coins—the thinner the better. Continue slicing until halfway up the lemongrass stalk, then discard the remaining top (the majority of the oils are in the bottom half of the stalk, so there’s no need to use the tops). Chop the lemongrass coins into a fine mince. It’s ready for use.
Makes 1 quart
For this pickle, we ferment cabbage in a rice-and-salt brine, rather than using vinegar as the souring agent. How long the cabbage ferments will depend on the flavor you’re going for—we start tasting it on the fourth day, when the cabbage has a distinct but gentle sourness. By the sixth day, that sourness and tang will be more pronounced. If you let the cabbage continue to ferment after that, the flavors will deepen and the leaves will become soft and lose their crisp. Once it hits the level of sourness and texture you like, stick the jar in the fridge and use it within two weeks. This method can be used to pickle bean sprouts and green tomatoes as well.
3 tablespoons sweet rice
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Red Boat Salt or kosher salt
½ pound cabbage
4 scallions, green tops only
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet rice with 3 cups of water. Stir to rinse the rice. Soak the rice for 30 minutes, then drain and discard the water.
2. Transfer the rice to a tea sachet or tie it up in cheesecloth and place in a quart-size mason jar. Set aside.
3. In a medium pot, combine 2 ⅔ cups water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Set the brine aside to cool completely.
4. Cut and discard the core from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage leaves into 2-inch squares, then place in 1 gallon of water.
5. Add the scallion tops to the cabbage leaves. Agitate the cabbage and scallions in the water to loosen any bits of dirt clinging to the vegetables. Set aside to soak for 15 minutes.
6. Gently lift the cabbage and scallions from the water. Try not to disturb the water too much; doing so will bring up any dirt that’s settled on the bottom of the bowl. Dry the cabbage and scallions well in a salad spinner or with paper towels, then pack them into the mason jar.
7. Once the brine is completely cool, pour it into the jar. Screw the lid tightly and place the jar in a dry place on your counter.
8. After a day or two in the brine of rice water and fish salt, small bubbles will appear in the liquid, which is a good sign that the fermentation process has started. Let the cabbage continue to ferment for 4 to 7 days, unscrewing and tightening the lid once a day to release the gas in the pickle. On the fourth day, give it a try: If it’s not sour enough to your liking, continue fermenting (and releasing the gas) for up to 3 more days. At that point, the pickle can remain on your counter, where it will continue to ferment and develop flavor. Alternatively, you can transfer the jar to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.
From The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook by Cuong Pham, Diep Tran, and Tien Nguyen. Copyright © 2021 by Cuong Pham, Diep Tran, and Tien Nguyen. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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