Summer is not only about vacations, the beaches, the heats, and all the fun activities, but also a popular season for barbequing. The bright burning charcoals, the smoky burnt wood chips, the fragrant of the grilled meats, altogether, nostalgically and evocatively, they bring me back to my childhood in Vietnam.
Back then we didn't have any fancy, luxurious barbeque gas grills like the one you would see in every family's backyard here. All we had was a little stove made out of red clay with three prongs to hold up the pot or pan while food being cooked in it. I remember we would use anything we had on hands to light up the fire ranging from dried wood branches to dried coconut peels or dried palm leaves. But whenever we wanted to grill any BBQ meats, it had to be with the charcoals, otherwise the meats would smell and taste like smoked wood chips. We used a small grilling rack to lay the marinated meats on top and flipped them every now and then to make sure they are cooked thoroughly but not burned. The smell of marinated meats combined with the burning charcoals always made my tummy growling and my mouth watering with its irresistible fragrant. In my believe, there is nothing, not even a fancy gas grill, could replace the wonderful, savory taste of Vietnamese BBQ meats that are grilled on the real burning charcoals.
Well, back to reality, I don't have that clay stove anymore nor have yet to purchase another fancy gas grill (we just got rid of our old one not that long ago, and still looking for the right one to bring home), so my only way of getting around this is to bake and then broil them in the oven. Although nothing could beat the smell and taste of the real charcoal grilled meats, this one will do in a mean time. It is actually quite tasty with the meats really soft and moist. Well I am starving, so I won't be so picky, would you?
1. 3 lbs of pork belly or pork shoulder (cut into long strips or 1/2 inch thick slices)
2. 4 tbsp ground lemongrass, 4-5 cloves of minced garlic
3. 5 shallots and 5 white parts of the green onions (minced)
4. 5-6 tbsp of fish sauce
5. 1 tbsp of oyster sauce
6. 1 tbsp of sweet soy sauce and 1 tbsp of regular soy sauce
7. 3 tbsp of sugar
8. 1 tbsp of honey
9. 1 tbsp of cooking oil and 1 tbsp of sesame oil
10. 2 tbsp of Mirin (Japanese sweeten syrup, optional)
11. 1 tsp of five spice powder, a small pinch of chili powder, 1tsp of mushroom seasoning
12. garlic powder and ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients except for the meats, mix well and taste the marinate to adjust the seasoning to your liking. Place the sliced meats in a large mixing bowl, pour the marinate sauce over the meat and mix well to combine using your hands (wearing gloves will help to protect your hands from the garlicky smell later). Cover the the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for the meats to absorb all the goodness from the marinate, preferably over night or at least several hours.
If you have a gas or charcoal grill, by all mean, use it because it will yield a more authentic flavor. But if you are like me, without a grill, then the oven will be your best bet.
Preheat the oven to 450F, in a large baking tray, fill it up with water (about 1/2 way). Position a cookie rack on top of the tray containing water, then neatly arrange the meats on top of the rack. Place the tray on the top rack in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes. Turn the meats occasionally to get them baked and brown evenly on both sides. Turn to broil on the last 5 minutes to get the burnt, grilling look. Make sure you pay close attention since the meats tend to burn quickly under broil. The water tray will keep the meats moist and juicy.
To serve, place the grilled meats on a plate with steamed rice, fried egg and some lettuce, tomato for healthy sides. The dish is typically served with green onion oil and garlic fish sauce drizzled over the meats and rice. Enjoy!