Thit heo kho voi trung (Vietnamese braised pork with hard-boiled eggs) is simply put a peasant dish. So earthy, so flavorful, so comforting. My mom used to make this fairly often when I was little and I always loved to spoon the sauce over rice and eat it plain.
The caramel sauce infuses the pork and hard-boiled eggs with a slightly sweet, deeply rich flavor that can only be achieved by braising for a long time. The fats and collagens in the pork break down into tenderness, the blandness of the albumen absorbs the caramel flavors, the yolk is smooth and rich. Spooned over rice with plenty of sauce, of course, it's perfect comfort food for a rainy day. The caramel sauce is a must for this dish to provide color and flavor to the pork. If you're not going to do this step, then skip the sugar in the recipe as the coconut juice will provide plenty of sweetness on its own. The coconut juice will mostly cook off, leaving behind a slight sweetness to add depth to the pork. If you don't want any coconut juice at all, then simply substitute with water.
Thit Heo Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork With Hard-Boiled Eggs)
For a 2-quart pot, you'll need:
Nuoc Mau (Vietnamese Caramel Sauce)
1 lb pork butt or shoulder, sliced into two-inch chunks. Traditionally, a nice fatty portion with skin attached is used. Screw cholesterol and follow tradition if you wish.
3 hard-boiled eggs, or more if you'd like
1 medium onion, sliced or diced, and/or a few cloves of garlic if you wish
1 cup fresh coconut juice, or substitute with Coco Rico
About 1 tblsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), or more according to taste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Optional: If you don't want to make the caramel sauce, you can substitute by adding 1 tblsp of Indonesian Kecap Manis
Hard boil eggs, peel shells, and set aside. I usually start boiling the water for this while I prepare the meat.
Cut meat into 2-inch wide chunks. Slice or dice onions. Set aside.
Make the caramel sauce, then add the pork and stir to color the pork. Add the onion and about 1 cup of coconut juice, or half a can of Coco Rico, and enough water to cover the meat with about an inch of water over. Add the fish sauce, salt, and ground black pepper. Stir again to mix it up. If you like sweeter meat, you can use additional coconut juice in lieu of the water. Taste and adjust sugar or fish sauce if necessary.
Turn heat down to medium low and allow to simmer for at least half an hour, ideally an hour. Pork gets more tender the longer it cooks so this is really a personal preference. My mom likes her pork very firm, I like it fall-off-the-bone tender. The water will cook down and meld everything together -- the pork and onions will soften, the almost burnt sugar takes on a deep molasses flavor, the saltiness of the fish sauce balances it all. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
About 15 minutes before the pork will be the done, add the hard-boiled eggs, making sure to put the eggs in the middle of the pot so they can absorb the caramel sauce flavor and color. You don't want to put the eggs too soon because they'll get rubbery.
This dish can be pretty fatty if you choose to use pork belly or a skin-on portion, so I'd suggest making this and then refrigerating it for several hours or overnight. The excess fat will congeal for easy removal. Just reheat by letting it simmer for a few minutes.
Serve with rice.
Now, another variation of this dish is to replace the eggs with pickled mustard greens. I love the contrasts of the pickled sourness to the salty-sweetness of the sauce.
Omit the eggs. Do all the same steps as above, but add the pickled mustard greens at the same time as the meat.
Shhhh. Don't tell anyone, but you can combine it all and make braised pork with eggs and pickled mustard greens, instead of just or. Although I have only seen it offered one way or the other. You can even spoon it over rice porridge instead of regular rice.
My other Vietnamese braised pork dishes:
Suon Kho Xa Gung Toi Ot (Vietnamese Braised Pork Chops with Lemongrass, Ginger, Garlic, and Chilies)
Thit Heo Kho Cu Cai Trang Cu Sen (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Daikon Radish and Lotus Roots)
Thit Heo Kho Dau Hu (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Tofu)
Thit Heo Kho Mit (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Jackfruit)
Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatballs)
Who made my recipe for thit kho trung?
The Budding Cook said, "I was impatient so I didn't wait for the coconut juice to caramelize. :D It still turned out delicious though. :)"
Weismommie of My College Kitchen substituted the coconut juice with beer and said, "This is excellent eaten with hot white rice."
Carmen Cooks said, "...was really pleased with how it came out... I’m not a big meat-eater, and my favorite part of this dish were the eggs. While the meat was good – fall apart tender and flavorful – I would have been happy to just have the eggs."