Tom rang thit ba chi has many names: thit rang, thit rim, tom thit rim, thit ba roi rang tom; but it’s essentially caramelized pork and shrimp and is a fundamental dish in almost all vietnamese house holds. It’s akin to meatballs and spaghetti or macaroni and cheese to Italian and American cuisines. Served with bowl of hot jasmine rice, pickled mustard greens, and soup of the day, it would be like our family’s pizza night, if we had it growing up. It’s the fall back recipe when mom didn’t feel like making anything special in the kitchen. But of course, she knew we all LOVED this dish and I’m certain had no guilt about her lack of menu diversification or the fact we might have had this dish 1, 2, or even 3 weeks in a row.
We love it not only because it contains two ingredients we love: pork belly and shrimp, but it also displays a fundamental technique we love, and that’s caramelization. Who wouldn’t love pork belly thats rendered and caramelized to a crisp like bacon, along with sweet, succulent shrimp?
We’ve talked about caramelization before with ga kho, ca kho to, and thit kho and all of these dishes highlight the fact that caramelization can be done in a variety of ways from making a caramel sauce by browning sugar to using the natural sugars of coconut juice in a long braise. In tom rang thit ba chi (or ba roi, as southerners would say), the simple combination of sugar and fish sauce and pork fat renders magic. We often highlights regional dishes from the northern, central, and southern regions Vietnam to point out the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine. But tom rang thit ba chi however is one dish that you can find in any household, in any village, and in any part of the country.
A humble and classic Vietnamese family dish that any parent would be proud to serve. Come to think of it, I don’t think we ever really missed out on never having those pizza nights.
Tom Rang Thit Ba Chi (Caramelized Shrimp and Pork Belly)
To thinly slice skin on pork belly, freeze for about 30 min to 1 hour.
1/2 lb thinly sliced skin on pork belly, 1 inch wide and like thick cut bacon in thickness
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs sugar
1 medium shallot, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 tbs water
1/2 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on
fresh ground pepper
Make a quick marinade of pork, fish sauce and sugar and mix well. In large thick cast iron skillet under medium low heat, add oil, minced shallots and garlic till fragrant. Add pork belly stirring occasionally—this is where you have to be patient and let the caramelization process work—-render the fat and as meat releases it’s juices, render that down. If the pan gets dry, and a tbs of water at a time and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the fond and all the delicious bits. Continue to stir and render and caramelize the pork and add water by the tablespoon full as needed until the color is dark brown. Add the shrimp at the end and cook until shrimp is done. Adjust seasoning to taste with fish sauce and sugar, if needed.
*Cooks note: A leaner cut of pork butt can be used but might be tad dryer so reduce cooking time if using. Some prefer the pork to be almost crispy on verge of burnt, if so, simply extend the the cooking time of the pork and render over low heat. Peeled shrimp can be used, but add near the very end as it would take least time to cook. By the end of cooking, the liquid will be nearly completely reduced. If you like a little sauce, add another few tbs water at the end and deglaze the pan, and season as needed.