Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in Vietnamese culture. It takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar calender (Febuary 14, 2010), however in Vietnam and throughout the world, the festival of Tet is not just a one day event, but celebrated weeks before, day of, and several days following Tet.
The several weeks before Tet is a time of preparation. Families clean and decorate the house, buy new cloths, repay debt, settle personal differences and of course cook. The most well known festive foods to serve at Tet are the banh chung and banh day (sticky rice cake), however there are many other festive foods which are also served to bring in the new year such as thit kho (braised pork belly) with dua gia (pickled bean sprouts), xoi gac, be thui (roasted veal), cha lua (Vietnamese ham) as well as nem chua are made. This is a time when family members return to the home.
While we have already posted a few Tet festive foods, we’re going to post a short series on a few other Tet celebratory foods. Nem chua is a cured/fermented pork charcuterie, if you will, that has a sweet, sour, salty and spicy taste that is oh so addicting. Now you see these year round either wrapped in banana leaves or plastic wrap in Asian groceries because it’s just that good and can’t just be saved for Tet.
This recipe is adapted from our dear Cousin Chi Quyen from Texas who is an awesome cook.
Nem Chua Recipe (Vietnamese Fermented/Cured Pork)
- 1.5 lb of extra lean pork–ground twice
- 8 oz package of cooked pork skin (bi-see what it looks like here)
- 1 head of garlic divided in 2/3–finely mince 2/3 of the cloves and thinly slice the remainder
- 2 tbs white peppercorns (wash and soak in water for about 10 mins)
- Thai chile (either whole or cut small pieces)
- 3 tbs sugar
- 1 bag of seasoning Nem/Nam mix (Found in Asian Grocers and contains salts and nitrites for curing)
The pork skin (bi) typically comes frozen so first defrost that. Rinse in luke warm water and squeeze out excess water and allow to dry. Rinse and soak the whole white peppercorns and allow to dry.
Use the leanest cut of pork possible, typically extra lean loin meat or tenderloin. Ask your butcher to trim off any excess tendon etc. and grind twice. In mixing bowl, combine the pork, sugar, pork skin, minced garlic, peppercorns, and the nem season mix. Mix well and we mean mix really well–it might help to use plastic gloves here. Squeeze and knead the mixture until it gets very very sticky. This is key!! If you think it’s about ready–knead it a few more just to be certain.
There are several ways to wrap up the nem chua. You can do it in a sausage like above and add the sliced garlic and chile in the center rolling it tightly with plastic wrap or banana leaves. Or you can spread it out in a flat baking pan or plastic container lined with plastic wrap. Layer the garlic slices and chile slices on top and cover tightly with additional plastic wrap. Put something flat and heavy on top to press it down–you want a nicely packed nem chua. Allow the nem chua to cure in the fridge for 24-36 hours. It will turn a beautiful pink color. When done, slice into small squares and wrap each individually with plastic wrap or banana leaf. Lasts about 1 week in the fridge.