Vietnamese Caramel Pork is a simple, magical recipe - tender pork in a sweet savoury glaze and no hunting down unusual ingredients! www.recipetineats.com
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4.97 from 90 votes

Vietnamese Caramel Pork

Recipe VIDEO above. "Thit Kho To" - Tender pork in a sweet savoury glaze that has quite an intense flavour. Though made using coconut water as the broth, but it doesn't have a coconut flavour at all! It looks so unimpressive right up until the end when it magically transforms into sticky caramelised pork pieces! 
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Main
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Keyword: Vietnamese caramel pork, Vietnamese pork recipe
Servings: 4
Calories: 727kcal
Author: Nagi

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup / 100g brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 kg / 2 lb pork shoulder (butt) or boneless skinless pork belly, cut into 3 cm / 1.2" pieces (Note 1a)
  • 1 1/4 cups / 375 ml coconut water (Note 1b)
  • 1 eschallot / shallot , very finely sliced (Note 2)
  • 2 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper

Garnishes:

  • Red chilli and finely sliced shallots/green onions

Instructions

  • Place sugar and water in a large pot over medium heat. Stir, then when it bubbles and the sugar is melted (it looks like caramel), add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Stir, then adjust the heat so it is simmering fairly energetically. Not rapidly, not a slow simmer (I use medium heat on a weak stove, between medium and low on a strong stove).
  • Simmer for 1.5 hours, uncovered. Stir once or twice while cooking.
  • At around 1.5 hours, when the liquid has reduced down and the pork is tender, (see Note 3 if pork is not yet tender), the fat will separate (see video).
  • Stir and the pork will brown and caramelise in the fat.
  • Once the liquid is all gone and it's now stuck on the pork pieces, it's ready.
  • Serve over rice, garnished with fresh chilli and shallots. Simple pickled vegetables are ideal for a side because the fresh acidity pairs well with the rich pork.

Notes

1b. Other proteins/cuts: This recipe is suitable for slow cooking cuts of pork like shoulder/butt and belly. Please don't try this with tenderloin or loin - it will be too dry, there is not enough fat in those cuts.
This recipe will also work great with beef - use slow cooking cuts like chuck, gravy beef and brisket. I don't think the flavours will work with lamb. And I've now shared the chicken version - Vietnamese Coconut Caramel Chicken (it's stickier / saucier).
1b. Coconut water is different from coconut milk. It's more like a whitish water, and it tastes salty / sweet, and not really of coconut at all. It's sold at supermarkets here in Australia in the drinks aisle - it's popular for "healthy" smoothies and the like, and costs $2 - $3 (Asian stores are cheaper).
This recipe does actually work great with coconut milk as well, and I've since shared a coconut milk version using chicken - Vietnamese Coconut Caramel Chicken.
2. Eschallots are also known as French shallots / French onions and look like small onions. Don't get too hung up on this - you can even use normal onions, finely chop 1/4 cup. 
3. PORK TENDERNESS: The variable in this recipe is the time it takes for the liquid to reduce down vs pork being tender. If your pork is not quite tender enough by the time the braising liquid is almost evaporated, just add 1/2 cup water and keep cooking.
4. Simple Pickled Vegetables: Use a carrot peeler to peel ribbons from 1 carrot. Slice 2 cucumbers. Place 1/2 cup rice vinegar (or cider vinegar), 1/4 tsp salt and 1 tbsp white sugar in a bowl, stir. Add carrot and cucumber, stir.  Set aside for 20 minutes until the vegetables soften then drain. Coriander/cilantro and mint are great additions to a simple pickled veg like this. Serve with pork.
5. Adapted from various recipes from Vietnamese cookbooks and this one from Luke Nguyen SBS Food (I found the liquid ratio too high).
6. QUICK VERSION: Here is a quick version inspired by this recipe that I have shared using pork mince (ground pork) -> Vietnamese Caramelised Pork Bowls.
7. The calories in the table below are overstated because it assumes all the fat in the pork shoulder is consumed but there is fat left in the pot after serving.

Nutrition

Serving: 365g | Calories: 727kcal