Pok Pok’s Grilled Pork Shoulder with Spicy Dipping Sauce Recipe
A summery recipe, but one that can be enjoyed all year round. I haven’t been to Thailand in ages, but Brenda’s recipe post makes me crave more than the pork alone. I’m not sure when it’ll happen, but Asia is a place I try and visit at least once every two years. My last trip was November 2013… which means I’m overdue for a trip… soon. Let’s hope!
“There’s nothing better to snack on while you drain tall bottles of Leo beer at a late-night (or late-afternoon) drinking joint. This is boozing food, without a doubt, a thirst-inducing combination of heat and meat – and awesomely chewy meat at that, not a cut that’s going to fall apart when you so much as look at it. Along with those slices of neck (a common sight in Thailand) comes a dead-simple dipping sauce whose requisite flavors are sour, salty, and viciously spicy. At Pok Pok, we pour the sauce over the pork, even though you rarely, if ever, see it serviced that way in Thailand. That’s because no one in Southeast Asia’s going to tentatively dip a corner of the pork, as whiteys tend to. The dish must be spicy, that’s its purpose.”
– Andy Ricker, from the Muu Kham Waan recipe in Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand
It started with a new cookbook and an endearingly forward recipe introduction. Well not quite, let’s backtrack a bit. It actually started with my first dining experience at Pok Pok in Portland half a decade ago. Legendary in food circles, Pok Pok is chef Andy Ricker’s staunchly uncompromising love letter to the years he spent in Thailand and to the regular visits he continues to make.
Pok Pok, Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, and Vancouver’s own Maenam have spoiled me for Thai food. There’s a huge world beyond ketchuppy Pad Thai and the dishes that I’ve tried at these restaurants are lusty and full of flavour. Having recently watched Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Thailand episode with Andy Ricker makes me want to visit this part of the world even more.
Andy’s voice comes through clearly in the Pok Pok cookbook and you can feel his deep love of the food and culture. My favourite dishes at Pok Pok are the grilled meats so I naturally gravitated towards that particular chapter. The restaurant cooks much of their food outdoors over charcoal and I’ve been a big fan of this style of cooking ever since acquiring my own charcoal grill last year.
The Mu Kham Waan recipe calls for pork neck but I’m glad that it said “pork shoulder makes a fine stand-in”. The cookbook has a way of making you want to stay true to the recipes but the authors have provided recommended substitutions where possible. They would much rather people use and adapt the recipes rather than be scared off by trying to source every last authentic ingredient.
The pork recipe was excellent made using shoulder but I still plan on trying it with neck. Pork neck has a more even marbling than shoulder and I’m curious about Andy’s comment about “awesomely chewy meat”. Pork neck can be found at Asian speciality stores or ordered from the local butcher.
I liked how each recipe comes with a flavour profile as well as other recommended dishes to serve it with. The suggestions for the grilled pork were Grilled Corn with Salty Coconut Cream, Stir Fried Rice Noodles, beer and sticky rice.
Corn is a no-brainer for the summer and I love coconut cream so this was an automatic yes (recipe here). Rice is a must for mopping up delicious meat juices and sauce, but I had also bookmarked the recipe for Thai Cucumber Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. All of these ingredients are currently in abundance at the local farmers markets so it was a good opportunity to try one more dish from the cookbook. Thus the intention to try one recipe had quickly turned into three but all of them were easy to prepare and tasted great.
I’ve actually made each of the recipes more than once this summer. The grilled pork recipe was excellent made with chicken legs, and the salad is going to be made a few more times before the tomato season ends. Fresh local corn will be around for a little longer but the salty coconut cream is extremely versatile and so delicious that I was eating it just on plain rice.
Grilled Pork Shoulder with Spicy Dipping Sauce
“Flavour Profile: Meaty, Fiery, Sour, Slightly Herbaceous and Peppery
Try it With: Grilled Corn with Salty Coconut Cream, Stir Fried Rice Noodles. Needs lots of beer and sticky rice.”
– Adapted from Mu Kham Waan (Grilled Pork Neck with Spicy Dipping Sauce) in Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand by Andy Ricker
Serves: 4 to 8 as part of a meal
- 4g (2 large cloves) peeled garlic, halved lengthwise
- 2g (1 tsp) cilantro roots or cilantro stems, thinly sliced
- 12 black peppercorns
- 454g boneless pork neck or shoulder, sliced with the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slabs
- 15g (1 Tbsp + 1 tsp) Thai seasoning sauce (Maggi seasoning sauce)
- 8g (2 tsp) granulated sugar
Spicy Dipping Sauce
- 30g (3 Tbsp) Thai fish sauce
- 35g (3 Tbsp) lime juice, preferably from Key limes
- 10g (2 Tbsp) minced garlic
- 6-12g (about 4-8) fresh red Thai chiles, thinly sliced (adjust to your spice tolerance)
- 15g (1 Tbsp + 1 tsp) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Notes for success
- Cilantro roots may be difficult to find since cilantro is usually sold with the roots cut off. The stems can be substituted instead.
- Roll the limes along the counter with the palm of your hand to help with extracting more juice.
- The spicy dipping sauce can be prepared while the pork is marinating. All of the dipping sauce ingredients except for the cilantro leaves can be mixed together ahead of time.
- It’s best if the cilantro leaves are stirred into the dipping sauce just before serving since the lime juice will start to wilt the leaves. However, I’ve successfully kept leftover sauce in the refrigerator for a few days.
- The marinade and spicy dipping sauce would be excellent with other Asian grilling meats such as chicken thighs or thinly sliced cross cut beef short ribs.
- Combine the garlic, cilantro roots (or stems), and peppercorns in a granite mortar and pound to a coarse paste, about 45 seconds.
- Combine the pork in a mixing bowl with the paste, seasoning sauce, and sugar and massage with your hands to coat the pork well with the seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 hour.
- Heat a grill, preferably charcoal, or a lightly oiled grill pan to cook over medium heat.
- Cook the pork, flipping once, until it’s well browned on both sides, slightly charred, and just cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
Spicy Dipping Sauce
- Combine the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, chiles, and sugar in a bowl and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Right before you’re ready to serve, stir in the cilantro.
- Arrange the pork slices on a plate. Serve with the dipping sauce in a small bowl.