Caramelized shrimp and pork belly

This traditional dish can be found in any region throughout Vietnam.

The Ravenous Couple
Pork belly that's rendered and caramelized to a crisp like bacon, along with sweet, succulent shrimp served over rice.

Tom rang thit ba chi (caramelized shrimp and pork belly) served with bowl of hot jasmine rice, pickled mustard greens, and soup of the day would be like our family’s pizza night if we actually ever had one, a once week or two fall back when mom didn’t feel like making anything special in the kitchen. But of course, she knew we all loved this dish and I’m certain had no guilt about her lack of menu diversification or the fact we might have had this dish one, two, or even three weeks in a row.

We love it not only because it contains two ingredients we love: pork belly and shrimp, but it also combines a technique we love, and that’s caramelization. Who wouldn’t love pork belly that's rendered and caramelized to a crisp like bacon, along with sweet, succulent shrimp?

We’ve talked about caramelization before with ga kho, ca kho to, and thit kho and all of these dishes highlight the fact that caramelization can be done in a variety of ways from making a caramel sauce by browning sugar to using the natural sugars of coconut juice in a long braise. In tom rang thit ba chi (or ba roi, as southerners would say), the simple combination of sugar and fish sauce and pork fat renders magic. We often highlight regional dishes from the northern, central, and southern regions of Vietnam to point out the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine. But tom rang thit ba chi however is one dish that you can find in any household, in any village, and in any part of the country.

A humble and classic Vietnamese family dish that any parent would be proud to serve. Come to think of it, I don’t think we ever really missed out on never having those pizza nights.

Tom Rang Thit Ba Chi (Caramelized Shrimp and Pork Belly)

1/2 lb. pork belly, about 1 inch wide and thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup water
1/2 lb. medium sized shrimp, shell on
Fresh ground pepper

Freeze the pork belly for about 10 minutes for easier slicing. Make a quick marinade of pork, fish sauce and sugar and mix well.

In nonstick skillet under medium heat, add minced shallots and pork belly stirring occasionally until meat is slightly browned and decreased in volume from rendering of fat, about 7-8 minutes (at this point you may discard any rendered fat if you wish).

Add 1/2 cup water and allow the pork to simmer covered, thickening and reducing the sauce another 6-7 minutes. Add the shrimp and continue to sautée mixture until pork and shrimp are both caramelized, about another 6-7 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with fish sauce and sugar, if needed.

Finish with generous amount of freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy with steaming hot rice, side of pickled mustard greens, and home style soup.

*Cooks note: A leaner cut of pork such as thigh with skin on can be substituted. Some prefer the pork to be almost crispy on verge of burnt, if so, simply extend the the cooking time of the pork before adding shrimp. Peeled shrimp can be used, but add near the very end as it would take least time to cook. By the end of cooking, the liquid will be nearly completely reduced. If you like a little sauce, add another 1/4 cup water at the end and deglaze the pan, and season as needed.

Hong Pham and Kim Dao blog about Vietnamese cuisine at The Ravenous Couple. They recently redesigned their website with a cool, new look – so be sure to check it out!

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