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Food

Up your summer grilling game with lemongrass-marinated Vietnamese pork chops

Vietnamese pork chops
Spoon the watermelon radish nuoc cham all over this one-dish meal.
(Pascal Shirley / For The Times)

When I was young and my parents went out, my Vietnamese babysitter would make grilled lemongrass pork chops. I loved ripping the smoky meat from the bones with my teeth and licking the sticky bits off my fingers.

The sugar in the marinade — fragrant with fish sauce, lemongrass, shallots, chiles and garlic — caramelizes on the outside of the meat, while the meat inside those crackly charred edges stays juicy. I prefer ⅓-inch-thick pork shoulder chops (they have lots of bones), but use what you can find at your market and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

For the best grilled pork, choose bone-in pork chops, then follow these tips to cook them perfectly with charred outsides and juicy insides.

And don’t forget the nuoc cham: My version uses watermelon radish instead of carrots for a peppery bite. Pile it on the chops but also use it as a dipping sauce for the fresh, cooling vegetables on the side.

These flavorful chops are great on their own or eaten with jasmine rice or thin vermicelli rice noodles. Refrigerate any leftover meat, then thinly slice and use it to stuff into sandwiches, summer rice paper rolls or tacos.

Ingredients for Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops with Radish Nuoc Cham
You need only a handful of ingredients for this quick flavorful marinade and sauce.
(Pascal Shirley / For The Times)
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Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops With Radish Nuoc Cham

25 minutes plus marinating. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 3 stalks fresh lemongrass, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 red finger chiles or other hot chiles, seeded (optional) and sliced
  • ⅓ cup plus ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons coconut palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 4 thick bone-in pork chops or 8 thin bone-in pork chops (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ⅔ cup hot water
  • 1 watermelon radish, scrubbed and cut into matchsticks
  • Tomato wedges, cucumber slices and fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil and mint, for serving

Instructions

  1. Combine the lemongrass, shallot, four-fifths of the sliced garlic, half the sliced chiles, ¼ cup fish sauce and ¼ cup palm sugar in a large, shallow dish and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the pork chops and turn to evenly coat, spooning the solids on top of the meat. Or you can pour the mixture into a resealable plastic bag, add the pork chops and seal the bag. Let stand at room temperature while the grill heats, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Set up a charcoal grill for direct, high-heat grilling or heat the burners of a gas grill to medium-high. (Alternatively, heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat on a stove.)
  3. While the grill heats, stir the lime juice, hot water and the remaining sliced garlic, sliced chile, ⅓ cup fish sauce and 3 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the watermelon radish and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.
  4. Remove the pork from the marinade, brushing off the solids, and place the chops on the hot grill. Cook until the bottom of the meat has charred and releases easily from the grate, about 5 minutes. Flip the chops and grill until the other side is charred and the meat has lost almost all of its pink color in the center, 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the pork chops to serving plates, spoon some of the radish nuoc cham on top, and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with the remaining nuoc cham, and serve alongside the tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.

Make ahead
The pork can be refrigerated in its marinade for up to a day. The nuoc cham can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


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