Vietnamese pork skewers–or bun cha, if you prefer–CAN be made at home, even if you’re used to ordering them. They take a little time and effort but the results are, honestly, spectacular. Some pickled onions and carrots, a handful of butter lettuce, some rice noodles, and…the star of the show, lush marinated pork belly, come together perfectly.
This is one of the mouthwatering recipes for traditional Vietnamese home-cooking collected by Bà, my maternal grandmother. It’s an homage to Vietnamese cooking and a tribute to my beloved grandmother, an accomplished home cook. These heirloom recipes withstood the test of time—and exile. As Bà journeyed from the rice fields in Hanoi to Washington, D.C., and France, she stayed true to her culinary heritage and learned to work around unavailable items and adapt to new ingredients.–Anne-Solenne Hatte
CAN I MAKE VIETNAMESE PORK SKEWERS AHEAD OF TIME?
Actually…according to Anne-Solenne Hatte, some of the ingredients are actually better when made ahead of time. Namely, the pickled onions and carrots, and the pork marinade should be made at least 6 hours before use. She also suggests adding 4 teaspoons of rice wine to the marinade, just in case, that’s some knowledge you can use.
Vietnamese Pork Skewers ~ Bun Cha
- 4 large metal or presoaked bamboo skewers
For the pork and marinade
- 3 to 5 shallots minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 stalk (3 ounce) lemongrass minced
- 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil plus more for cooking
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 pounds pork belly (not too fatty)
For the noodles
- 7 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
- 4 1/4 cups (1 liter) water
Make the pork and marinade
- In a medium bowl, combine shallots, garlic, and lemongrass. Stir in fish sauce, sugar, 3 tablespoons sunflower oil, and pepper.
- Pat meat dry with paper towels, remove the layer of fat and cut meat into 1/2-inch thick (12-mm) slices. Add pork to the marinade and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
- Thread marinated pork onto four skewers, leaving some space between each slice.
- In a skillet over medium heat, heat some sunflower oil and cook pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), about 30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Alternatively, cook them directly on a grill, over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Prepare the noodles
- While the pork is cooking, fill a large saucepan with 4 1/4 cups cold water. Add noodles, a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Cook according to package directions. Turn off heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, then rinse in cold water.
Serve the pork skewers
- Serve skewers with noodles, lettuce, tia to, mint, cucumbers, pickled carrots, pickled onions, cilantro, and spring roll dipping sauce.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Vietnamese pork skewers have always been an exciting treat I’ve enjoyed at restaurants, so I leapt at the chance to learn its delicious secrets from the comfort of my own kitchen. The aromatic and flavorful pork, so tender and satisfying paired with the punchy herbs, crunchy cucumber, and pickled sides truly is a match made in heaven.
I served mine with all the optional accompaniments and was very glad I did. Don’t be intimidated by the pickled carrots and red onions, they really don’t take very long and they add so much flavor not to mention street cred with your fellow diners!
I chose to grill my pork on a grill pan which was a little faster and gave some lovely caramelized edges. I was loath to throw out my delicious marinade from the pork, so I added some red pepper flakes, boiled it and reduced it down, and added some ponzu and rice vinegar to make a sauce – not traditional but very delicious.
We finished the meal off with some chilled Hong Kong-style mango puddings (another easy make-ahead) and couldn’t have been happier. My mother said eating it all was an adventure, which we could all use a little more of these days.
While this recipe contains a lot of ingredients and steps, it’s not difficult; making sure you have a clear workspace and that your ingredients are assembled will make prep much easier. Vietnamese pork skewers are a dish I eat often at restaurants but never went to the effort of making myself (and I’m glad I did).
I thought the recipe was straightforward, and that all the ingredients came together beautifully; the finished dish was bright and flavorful. Because I prefer more spice in my bun cha, I used sambal oelek as a dipping sauce, but next time I’d also add fresh chile to the marinade and as an accompaniment.
Originally published September 29, 2021