Vietnamese Noodle Salad With Caramelized Pork
Vietnamese noodle salad is a light, fresh blend of thin rice noodles, fresh herbs, lettuce and bean sprouts drizzled with a traditional dipping sauce made with fish sauce, garlic, lime juice and sugar. Generally served topped with thinly sliced pork, chicken or beef and sprinkled with crushed peanuts, the end result is a wonderful medley of flavors, textures and temperatures.
- 1 pork tenderloin (3/4 to 1 lb)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2-1/2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 10 ounces rice vermicelli, cooked, drained and rinsed (see instructions below)
- 4 cups green-leaf lettuce, torn
- 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
- 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 1/3 cup fresh Thai or regular basil leaves, loosely packed
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
- 1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, crushed
- For the dipping sauce/dressing (Nuoc Cham):
- 1/2 cup very warm water
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1-1/2 tablespoons shredded carrots
- Thinly sliced Thai chilies, sriracha or chili garlic sauce (optional)
Start by preparing the Nuoc Cham. Combine the warm water and sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, fish sauce, lime juice and shredded carrot and stir to combine.
If desired, add some thinly sliced Thai chiles, sriracha or chili garlic sauce to taste. Transfer to serving bowl and set aside.
Next, prepare the pork. Trim the silver skin and any excess fat from the tenderloin, then cut into thin (1/4-inch) slices. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and water in a medium-sized skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture develops a syrupy consistency and a little golden color, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the pork, fish sauce and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss to thoroughly coat the pork with the sugar mixture. Cook, tossing occasionally, until any liquid has evaporated and the pork has developed a deep, caramelized sheen, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Note: The sugar mixture will form a lot of bubbles around the pork as it reduces and caramelizes. This is normal, just keep turning the pork to ensure even caramelization.
To assemble the salads, place a portion of noodles in each bowl. Arrange the lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, basil, mint and bean sprouts around the edge of the bowls. Top each with a serving of pork, some crushed peanuts and a drizzle of Nuoc Cham. Serve immediately and pass additional Nuoc Cham at the table.
Makes 4 servings
How To Cook Rice Noodles:
Cook the rice vermicelli in a large pot of boiling water just until tender, 6 to 10 minutes. Cooking times vary widely by brand, so check the package directions and test every minute or two for tenderness.
Once cooked, drain and rinse once or twice with cool water to alleviate stickiness.
If desired, you can cook the noodles ahead of time, then rinse them just prior to serving to separate them and make them a little more pliable.