An important point, because Jaew dipping sauce is vital to vaulting Thai Grilled Pork Skewers (Moo Ping) past excellent all the way to legendary. Already, the thinly sliced meat ribboned onto skewers allows the flavorful marinade to permeate every square millimeter. Then, dunking it in the jaew after grilling enacts some new kind of magic. Thailand street voodoo.
One of the secrets is toasting a little rice, pulverizing it in a modern kitchen’s spice grinder (much less work than what a traditional Thai mortar and pestle requires), then adding it to the sauce. This produces a silky-smooth texture, and the toasty flavor beautifully enhance the sauce’s other sweet, spicy, salty and sour elements.
The Grilled Pork Skewers and the Chili-Lime Sauce (Jaew) combine exquisitely in what has to be one the most perfect pairings since peanut butter and chocolate. Special thanks to Milk Street for presenting the duo in its May-June 2019 issue. Truly one the best recipes among many winners the magazine has produced lately.
Aside from the jaew, of course, slicing the pork as thinly as is possible is another of the secrets to making the alchemy happen. Putting the meat in the freezer for an hour before cutting it works wonders. It firms just enough to sustain thin slicing, then allows a quick thaw to absorb the marinade. Take care to slice it perpendicular to the grain, as this is the distinction “meltingly tender” needs.
Finally, basting the skewers in coconut milk as they grill adds a beautifully sweet creaminess that wraps the meat and spices in a subtle silkiness. The effect is enhanced even more when the flames kiss the meat, contributing a light caramelization, adding to the tune’s complexity.
Everything – the thin slice, the marinade, the coconut milk – comes together to create a moment of transcendence. However, the dipping sauce, the spicy and savory jaew, makes for culinary legend. You’ll need a few moments. Before then, though, make sure you have enough jaew. A gallon or so ought to be enough.
(Thai Grilled Pork Skewers)
- 2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of surface fat (*1)
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely-minced cilantro stems
- 1/3 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar, firmly packed (*2)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
Place the pork on a large plate and put it in the freezer for an hour. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl stir together the other ingredients except for the coconut milk and set aside.
Using a long chef’s knife, slice the pork into sections two inches thick, then, laying each slice on the cutting board, cut it lengthwise into slices 1/4-inch thick. You should have a bunch of slices a couple inches wide, a quarter of an inch thick, and of varying lengths.
Place the pork in a zip-top bag and pour the marinade over it. Force out as much air as possible, seal the top, then briefly “massage’ the marinade into the meat. Refrigerate for at least two hours, up to overnight.
Light half the grill to a medium-high flame. Thread the pork “ribbons” onto metal skewers, taking care to scrunch them together tightly. Place the pork directly on the hot side, adjusting the flame as necessary to scorch the pork lightly, but not to envelop it. Cook for three minutes, then, using tongs, flip the skewers.
Brush with coconut milk and cook for a couple minutes more, then flip again and brush with a little more of the coconut milk. Repeat – cooking for a couple minutes, flipping, and brushing with more coconut milk – until the pork is evenly, but moderately, seared. Consult the photo for illustration.
Serve with rice, if desired, and dipping sauce, also if desired (and you should!). Recipe for a particularly complimentary variety follows in a bit.
1 – What’s much easier yet? Instead of a pork shoulder, buy 1-and-1/2 pounds of boneless country ribs. (After extracting the bone from the shoulder, if using, the amount of meat is the same.) Plus, ribs are trimmed and they’re already broken down into manageable pieces, needing only vertical lengthwise slicing to get them to size.
2 – The magazine text explains Thai cooks use palm sugar but, because it’s much less common elsewhere, brown sugar is a good substitute. No doubt, but if you have access to palm sugar, use it. It’s more authentic, and it tastes a bit better.
(Thai Chili-Lime Sauce)
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons jasmine rice
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely-chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar (*3)
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Place the rice in a small skillet and set it over a medium flame. Cook for 5 minutes, shaking skillet occasionally, until the rice is golden brown. Cut flame and pour rice into a spice grinder. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes, then pulse 8 or 10 times until the rice is powdered. Transfer to a small bowl.
Add the other ingredients, as well as a tablespoon of water. Stir to combine thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Bring back to room temperature before serving.
3 – As with the main course, use palm sugar if you can find it.