Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in Vietnamese culture. It takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar calender (Febuary 14, 2010), however in Vietnam and throughout the world, the festival of Tet is not just a one day event, but celebrated weeks before, day of, and several days following Tet.
The several weeks before Tet is a time of preparation. Families clean and decorate the house, buy new cloths, repay debt, settle personal differences and of course cook. The most well known festive foods to serve at Tet are the banh chung and banh day (sticky rice cake), however there are many other festive foods which are also served to bring in the new year such as thit kho (braised pork belly) with dua gia (pickled bean sprouts), xoi gac, be thui (roasted veal), cha lua (Vietnamese ham) as well as nem chua are made. This is a time when family members return to the home.
While we have already posted a few Tet festive foods, we’re going to post a short series on a few other Tet celebratory foods. Nem chua is a cured/fermented pork charcuterie, if you will, that has a sweet, sour, salty and spicy taste that is oh so addicting. Now you see these year round either wrapped in banana leaves or plastic wrap in Asian groceries because it’s just that good and can’t just be saved for Tet.
This recipe is adapted from our dear Cousin Chi Quyen from Texas who is an awesome cook.
Use the leanest cut of pork possible, typically extra lean loin meat or tenderloin. Ask your butcher to trim off any excess tendon etc. and grind twice. In mixing bowl, combine the pork, sugar, pork skin, minced garlic, peppercorns, and the nem season mix. Mix well and we mean mix really well–it might help to use plastic gloves here. Squeeze and knead the mixture until it gets very very sticky. This is key!! If you think it’s about ready–knead it a few more just to be certain.
There are several ways to wrap up the nem chua. You can do it in a sausage like above and add the sliced garlic and chile in the center rolling it tightly with plastic wrap or banana leaves. Or you can spread it out in a flat baking pan or plastic container lined with plastic wrap. Layer the garlic slices and chile slices on top and cover tightly with additional plastic wrap. Put something flat and heavy on top to press it down–you want a nicely packed nem chua. Allow the nem chua to cure in the fridge for 24-36 hours. It will turn a beautiful pink color. When done, slice into small squares and wrap each individually with plastic wrap or banana leaf. Lasts about 1 week in the fridge.
The nem chua has a very characteristic sour, sweet, salty, and spicy smell and taste that’s so damn good. Some even grill this during Tet but we enjoy it straight up. Thanks Chi Quyen for this awesome recipe! Tet this year is Febuary 14th…so what are you waiting for? Make your family preparations and make this for your family and friends–or heck, forget the chocolates–makes this for your sweet Valentines! 😉
Nem Chua Fermented Sour Pork
There are many ways to make this. The easiest is with a food processor, followed by kitchenaid, but neither are absolutedly necessary. If you don't have either, you can use your hands to massage the meat until sticky. The sourness should be present after 24 hrs and ready to eat. Lasts up to 14 days in the fridge.
1.3 lb of extra lean ground pork, preferably from the loin.
4 oz cooked pork skin, cut into short strips (bi-see what it looks like here)
8 cloves of garlic divided, 5--finely mince, thinly slice the remainder
1 tbs white peppercorns (wash and soak in water for about 10 mins)
Thai chile (either whole or cut small pieces)
3 tbs sugar
1/2 ts kosher salt
1 bag of seasoning Nem/Nam mix (Found in Asian Grocers and contains salts and nitrites for curing)
1-2 drops of red food coloring optional.
Line a square 8-9" cake pan with plastic wrap and set aside. Rinse and soak the whole white peppercorns in hot water for 30 min, then drain dry. The pork skin (bi) typically comes frozen so first defrost that or simply rinse in cool water and squeeze out excess water, drain and allow to dry.
Add the pork, minced garlic, sugar, and salt to the food processor. Churn until it becomes a sticky smooth paste, scrapping the down the sides intermittently. Add food coloring if you desire. Blend until smooth and uniform color.
Remove to mixing bowl and work in the pork skin until evenly distributed. Add the two packages of nem seasoning and mix well. Transfer to the lined cake tray. Using your hands spread the mixture until an even layer forms. Add the slivers of garlic and chili, arranging it in a roll. Add 1-2 peppercorns to each sliver of garlic and chili. Cover with plastic wrap and then find another container roughly the same size and place on top. Add something heavy to press down and refrigerate. Nem should be ready in 24 hrs. Remove the weights and cut into individual pieces making sure each piece has a sliver of garlic, chili, and peppercorn. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated up to 1 week.