The Best Nem Nuong
(Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties)
My dear Mr. J is a carnivore. He would be very happy to have rice and a hunk of protein seared up for every meal, twice a day, every day. While I like protein too, I gotta have some variation and lots and lots of flavor. So I'm always on the look out for good meat dishes that pack a flavor punch.
I revisited a familiar Vietnamese dish that I ate often as I grew up but I didn't love it - Nem Nuong aka Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty. The problem with this dish is that typical nem nuong tends to be too firm, too bouncy, overly spiced, under spiced, dry, the list goes on and on for the failures of this dish.
My taste of includes recipes from Wandering Chopsticks, The Spices of Life, and The Ravenous Couple. There were some key key differences in the recipes that justified a three way taste off.
Wandering Chopsticks used onion and recommended onions and did not use baking powder. The Spice of Life had the most classic recipe a moderate amount of baking powder and the inclusion of toasted rice powder. The Ravenous Couple used a lot of baking powder and NO FISH SAUCE. I was shocked and had to check the recipe 3 or 4 times (and I just checked it again before I finished typing this sentence) because it is very rare to find a Vietnamese recipe that doesn't use fish sauce.
And as a nice bonus, these disks of porky goodness were not that bad in the calories department; they ranged from 1.06 to 1.57 calories per gram cooked. So I definitely had room in the calories department after my super healthy dinner for a little taste testing.
Here are the complied notes from the blind taste test:
- Wandering Chopsticks:
- Best overall flavor
- Best paired with rice and noodles
- Beauty award - browned the best
- Most difficult to work with (loose texture)
- The Spices of Life*
- Best aroma
- Middle of the Road is taste and texture
- The Ravenous Couple*
- Best texture for spring rolls
- Easiest, firmest texture
- Too sweet
- Flavor was one dimensional (we all attributed this to no fish sauce)
Based on all the feedback, I put together a tweaked recipe mainly based on Wandering Chopsticks version.
*Note: These recipes calls for a single acting baking powder. The recommended brand, Alsa, was a bit hard for me to find. A friend of mine says she uses regular baking powder and it works just fine. I found the Alsa brand at a small Vietnamese grocery store in the front of the store - definitely ask the clerk instead of searching the aisles like me.
The Best Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patties): 1.25 calories per gram
- 4 large shallots (58 calories)
- 3 stalks green onion (8 calories)
- 1 whole HEAD of garlic, minced (51 calories)
- 2 lbs ground pork (1305 calories)
- 2 T honey (128 calories)
- 3 T fish sauce (27 calories)
- 1 tsp table salt (0 calories)
- 2 tsp black pepper (11 calories)
- 3 tsp single acting baking powder (15 calories, optional but recommended for spring roll wraps)
Accompaniments at additional calories:
- Rice paper wrappers (47 calories for a standard 8 inch diameter paper)
- Thin, round rice noodles (200 calories per 2 oz) or Spaghetti style Shirataki noodles (40 calories per 7 oz)
- Nuoc Cham (5T fish sauce, 2/3c water, 3T sugar, chili pepper to taste, juice from 2 -3 limes)
- Pickled carrots and daikon, or kimchi would work
- Granny smith apples, thinnly sliced, dipped in acidulated water
- Perilla leaf
- Mint leaf
- Thai basil leaf
- Puree the shallots and green onions into a fine mixture. You do not want to see any big chunks in the final mix. I used a mini chopper, if you don't have one, grating would work, or just dice really, really finely.
- Add minced garlic, pork, honey, fish sauce, salt, black pepper, and baking powder (if using). Mix well - this is one of those times that you just have to get your hands in there and mix it really well.
- Let mixture rest overnight. This is very important, especially if you are using baking powder.
- After mixture has marinated, you can freeze for later use or form into patties or long flat sausages to cook
- Grill or pan fry in non stick skillet with 1 tsp of oil on both sides.
- Over Rice or Cauliflower Rice with cucumbers and pickled veggies and of course nuoc cham
- Over noodles or Shirataki Noodles with shredded lettuce, cucumber and nuoc cham
- Wrapped in Rice Paper with Lettuce and herbs with nuoc cham