Style at a Certain Age is a lifestyle blog by Beth Djalali dedicated to aging with grace, strength, and beauty.
Hey everyone, welcome back to Kelly’s Kitchen. I am happy you’re here today! Our vacation through cooking continues as we visit the flavors of Vietnam with Vietnamese grilled pork noodle bowls. I have not been to Vietnam (yet) but I have loved the spicy, sweet, salty, sour flavors of Vietnamese cuisine for as long as I can remember. You may recall that Beth and Mr. Style lived in Vietnam many years ago and so Alex and his brothers love Vietnamese cuisine. Because of this, I had my work cut out for me…to make a dish that would pass muster with their experienced palates.
I made it easy for myself. I love Vietnamese Phở but every time we go to a Vietnamese restaurant I always end up ordering my favorite dish: bún thịt nướng – Vietnamese grilled pork with rice vermicelli noodles. This is a cold noodle salad loaded with fresh herbs and veggies and hot-off-the-grill pork slices served on top. All of the flavors and textures that make Vietnamese food so good and so satisfying are there: sweet, salty, sour, spicy flavors with crunchy peanuts and vegetables; soft, cold vermicelli noodles; and the bite of grilled meat. This cold noodle salad is easily customized to suit your taste – it’s healthy and refreshing on a hot day.
While simple to make, this recipe does require a 24 hour marinade for your pork shoulder. And since this is a cold noodle salad, you can essentially prep everything the day before and then put it all together after you grill the pork.
The typical ingredients for bún thịt nướng are: raw leafy greens, rice vermicelli noodles, sliced cucumbers, pickled carrots, leafy herbs (cilantro, basil, mint), sliced scallions, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts and nước chấm sauce.
Step 1: Mix all ingredients together in a large measuring cup and set aside.
These ratios should be enough to cover your meat in the Ziplock, but if you need more liquid, add more soy sauce and fish sauce until your meat is totally submerged.
Step 2: I am using a 1.5 pound pork shoulder. Slice your pork shoulder against the grain in ⅛ to ¼ inch thick slices. Place all the sliced meat into a large Ziplock and pour in the marinade. Gently squeeze the air out as best you can and seal up the bag. Lay the bag flat in the fridge overnight.
These are great to have on hand for sandwiches and salads, so make extra!
Step 1: Wash and peel at least 4 medium to large carrots. Alternatively you can use pre-shredded carrots.
Step 2: Using your peeler, create carrot ribbons, pulling the peeler the entire length of each carrot. Work your way around the carrot.
Step 3: Fill a jar or a glass bowl with the carrot ribbons and pour in a cup of rice vinegar, ¼ to ½ cup Mirin, sprinkle a generous pinch of salt. Seal the jar and shake to combine or stir well. Be sure the carrots are covered by the liquid, if they aren’t, add equal amounts of vinegar and Mirin until your carrots are submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Start by prepping your dressing, the nước chấm sauce. Nước chấm is a fish sauce that can be used as a dipping sauce or poured over the noodles and greens as a dressing. It’s also used as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and spring rolls.
Step 1: Mix all ingredients together in a measuring cup. Be sure to taste this sauce and add more of any ingredient to suit your taste. For instance, maybe you’d like it to be more citrusy, so add more lime juice. Perhaps you’d like it more sweet, add more sugar. I didn’t find any Thai chiles at the store, so I added a sliced red Fresno Chile, but you can use a Serrano chile, or jalapeño. To dissolve the sugar more easily, use lukewarm water.
Fish Sauce for dipping or dressing
Mix all ingredients in a glass measuring cup or bowl.
I was planning on using scallions as a garnish for this recipe, then after doing some reading, I discovered that scallion oil is a common condiment for grilled meat in Vietnamese cuisine, so I decided to give it a try, but you can simply use raw, thinly sliced scallions instead of making this onion oil. But it’s so simple and it’ll keep in the fridge to use for other dishes! I made a lot extra – I used an entire bunch of scallions and about ¾ cup of grapeseed oil.
Scallion Oil used as a condiment
Thinly slice scallions and heat oil in a skillet. Add onions to hot oil and sautè until soft.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Toss in the thinly sliced scallions and cook until soft, just about 30 seconds.
I happen to have Napa cabbage and green leaf lettuce, but feel free to use whatever raw leafy greens you like!
The herbs I have are cilantro, basil and mint. If you can find Thai basil, go for that! But I am growing regular old basil, so that’s what I am using. Tear your herb leaves off their stems, wash them and lay them out to dry.
I have cucumbers too! Slice those up. Instead of bean sprouts, I have pea shoots.
Chop your unsalted, roasted peanuts.
You can do this over rice if you can’t find the vermicelli rice noodles. The noodles are often labeled as “Rice Sticks” if you can find them – great! They’re quick and easy: just heat up a pot of water to near boiling. Turn off the heat, add your noodles and cover. Let sit, covered for 10 minutes. Strain the noodles and run cold water over them until they’re cool, and set them aside.
The pork slices will cook fast, so I like to have everything else ready to go before I put the meat on the grill. You will want to use a grill pan or grill grates so the slices don’t fall through. If you don’t have either of those, a wire cooling rack placed on the grill will work just fine. Spray the grill grates with a cooking oil spray because the pork will want to stick. If you’re using a wire cooling rack, spray it before you lay it on your grill.
Start with your greens
Then add a big handful of rice noodles.
Place your cucumber along one side.
Add your carrots to another side.
Place your leafy herbs and sprouts to create a little nest of noodles.
Lay slices of grilled pork in the center, on top of your noodles.
Spoon some scallion oil (mở hành) on top of the pork and sprinkle chopped peanuts on top.
Then, pour on some of your nước chấm dressing.
This dish has so much to love! I am a big fan of the “perfect bite” and this type of dish gives you endless opportunities to create new texture and flavor combinations with every bite. This is why this recipe and so many other Vietnamese dishes are incredibly satisfying; it’s a world of variety in a single bowl.
I hope you give Vietnamese Grilled Pork Noodle Bowls a try. Compared to other recipes so far in this column, like Ceviche, Lemon Pound Cake or German Potato Salad, bún thịt nướng seems complicated with many steps, but overall it’s fairly simple – and again, it’s all about the prep. With components you can do ahead, and the freedom to make substitutions, this one is worth the effort. Remember you can find me on Instagram and Facebook too! Take care, everyone. Be well, xo Kelly
Here are some substitution ideas:
Get creative with whichever fresh leafy greens you like.
Feel free to try rice instead of rice vermicelli.
You can substitute fresh julienned or shredded carrots instead of quick pickled carrots.
Top with fresh scallions instead of making onion oil.
Omit sprouts if you like.
Use whichever fresh leafy herbs you like or have.