Fresh and Vibrant Vietnamese Braised Lemongrass Pork is sweet and spicy in all the right ways. Serve it with rice, noodles, sticky buns, or as a Banh Mi sandwich! This pork versatile, pull-apart tender, and delicious to the last bite. Added recipe bonus: a Fresh Pickled Mint Cucumber Salad adds a crunchy, tangy goodness to balance it out perfectly.
After two weeks of exploring Vietnam with my wife, we learned to appreciate the wonderful flavors of their cuisine. Some of the best food, albeit initially skeptical, were the little food hockers conducting business precariously close to the bustling traffic of Saigon. To this day, I am still amazed how much I enjoyed those meals; especially since each bite was taken while dodging swarms of kamikaze motorbikes! But time and again, we were beyond impressed with the bright, fresh, yet complex layers of spices, herbs, and flavors.
Coming home to Chicago, we had a surplus of wonderful Vietnamese establishments, but so many of them seemed to tone down the litany of flavors we experienced. It never reminded me of our early morning strolls through Vietnam, where street restaurants set up shop, wafting essence of deliciousness in the air.
Luckily, with some trial and error, a bit of fish sauce, and lots of fresh herbs, making vibrant Vietnamese dishes can easily be done at home! This Vietnamese Braised Lemongrass Pork Roast is a salute to the wonderful meals eaten at incredible Vietnamese restaurants here and (mostly) abroad. It is also an excellent first Vietnamese dish to try cooking in your own home.
I’m Feeling This, But Do I Need Lots of Cookware?
All you need for this dish is a dutch oven & a cutting board. It’s a quick clean up type of meal, which is much appreciated for anyone with children. Other than browning the meat, much of the cooking time is done in the oven (hands off! woohoo!).
2 Hours Seems Long, Can I Make This in the Instant Pot Instead?
Absolutely – follow the same steps as the recipe but do everything in the instant pot itself instead of the dutch oven. When browning, use the sauté function. Change cooking time to 30 minutes on high pressure and quick release when it’s done. The meat should be tender but not shredded. If it’s not to your liking, you can always put it back in for 5 minutes (the second round goes much faster than the first in terms of the machine heating up). NOTICE: if you plan to make the cucumber salad (recipe included below) make the salad BEFORE the meat or earlier in the day, because it needs to sit in the refrigerator for about 2 hours (but you can get away with an hour).
What Do I Serve This With?
We like this with sticky rice and a pickled cucumber side salad (recipe included). This would also be a wonderful meat to top off a homemade vermicelli bowl. This meat would ROCK inside one (or three) of these steamed buns from Target (btw, not gluten free). The sky is the limit here in terms of creativity, but no matter what, make sure to serve with lots of fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil) and fresh limes.
There Seems to Be a Lot of Ingredients I Don’t Know…
Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients you aren’t familiar with. Here is a quick rundown:
- Chinese 5 spice: This spice will add a lot of dimension to the dish and give it that pho-like flavor. It is made up of 5 spices (Cinnamon, Cloves, Ground Star Anise, Ground Roasted Fennel Seed & ground Szechuan peppercorns) which touch on the 5 tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, hot). You can buy Chinese 5 Spice at most grocery stores or order it here. You can also make it on your own from this recipe here.
- Fish Sauce: sound gross? Don’t worry! It has a strong smell when it’s concentrated, but when added to a dish, it gives it salty undertones sans fish flavor. It’s very common in Vietnamese cooking & it’s also easy to find in just about any grocery store in the Asian section. I usually get this one at Walmart. Oh yeah – once you invest in a bottle, it stays good in your refrigerator pretty much indefinitely.
- Chili Paste: This is a spicy mixture very common in Asian foods. It is medium-level spicy on the heat scale – not cautiously so – but we usually start out with small amounts. This also has a very long shelf life in your refrigerator (once opened) so don’t be afraid to invest in this ingredient because you will see LOTS of Asian inspired dishes calling for it. You may find that you enjoy it even more than your basic tabasco – you can add it to eggs, sandwiches, chili, etc. Not feeling the heat? That’s ok – you can skip it. But, we feel like it adds a beautifully complex flavor to this dish and helps balance out the sweetness.
- Mirin: In Italian dishes, you use red/white wine. In Asian dishes, especially Japanese, you use Mirin. Mirin has a low alcohol content and is very sweet (although no added sugar – it comes through fermentation). Here is a dive into Mirin from Country Living Magazine and why it should be used. If you do not have this on hand, check out the Tips and Trick for replacement ideas.
Tips and Tricks for Fresh and Vibrant Vietnamese Braised Lemongrass Pork
- Fresh Herbs are a PAIN to find when they aren’t bountiful in the garden and can get downright expensive! Sometimes it can frustrate me so much that I meal plan around only my herbs! That being said, I have found a very useful trick from Chris @ Cafe Sucre Farine. Instead of keeping fresh herbs ALWAYS on hand, I buy tubes/jars of herb paste. Depending on the herb, I keep them in the refrigerator (lemongrass, garlic or ginger) or freezer (basil) and always have them readily available.
- Fresh ingredients are almost always my recommendation. But you can find these at Walmart right under the fresh herbs, or you can find them on Amazon. I’ve linked a few here: Ginger, Basil, Lemongrass, Garlic.
- If you’re buying lemongrass stocks, as recommended, use only the top 2/3s. Place the bulbs in a vase with an inch or two of water and let them grow! Within a week you’ll have a stylish house plant and a continuous stockpile of lemongrass. Once well rooted, you can also plant them in a container.
- This recipe calls for lots of fresh herbs for garnish. Although we call for 4 different fresh herbs, any combination of these will add nice flavor.
- GLUTEN FREE ALERT This dish calls for soy sauce, and if you want the dish to be Gluten Free then you have to have Gluten Free Soy Sauce. If you have a loved one with allergies, regular soy sauce is a BIG DEAL! Here is our favorite Gluten Free brand.
- Browning any type of meat is a pain – but DO NOT SKIP this step. It adds SO much flavor to this dish that it is worth the extra time. If your grill has a side burner, use it!
If you enjoy this dish, you might also try Lemon Tarragon Thyme Chicken or Herby Garden Salad with Homemade Lemon Vinaigrette (you could easily use this pork on this salad!)
Excellent, better than any Vietnamese restaurant in the states!
I made this for my in-laws. We all really liked it, I’ll make it again, but I want to try the carnitas and a couple other recipes first.
Thank you so much for the great review! We’re so happy you loved the recipe 🙂 Can’t wait to hear what you think of the carnitas (and the mole carnitas enchiladas… they’re a great option for any leftover carnitas!)