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Sunday Night Special: Pork in Caramel Sauce & Pickled Bean Sprouts


While trolling the internet I used to save recipes I might seriously make in a word document ingeniously called recipes. I haven’t touched or updated it in years. But I was reminded of its existence on my hard drive after eating a pork tenderloin in caramel sauce at Silent H a few weekends ago.

The first recipe I ever added to my list was Mark Bittman’s take on this dish, beef tenderloin in carmelized sugar, from an October 30, 2002 New York Times. It was really easy and unbelievably good (quick enough for a Monday night—I’m fudging the category because I didn’t cook on Easter). I made it once. In an effort to strive for authenticity, I looked in a few Vietnamese cookbooks and online sources but I decided to stick with his version.

It appears that this recipe also can be found in his The Best Recipes of the World (click on Southeast Asia on the left menu), a book I had completely forgotten existed until literally about two hours ago when I decided to watch a taped version of Bittman’s new TV show that aired this weekend. I didn’t realize the show was a tie-in with this book. It was a fitting coincidence that I decided to crack out the ol’ carmelized meat recipe when I did.

I substituted semi-thick pork chops for the beef called for and just cooked the meat a little longer. I’ve never exactly pinned down umami but I imagine that this dish is teeming with it. The sauce would almost be too salty if it weren’t for the hefty dose of melted sugar, which turns everything gooey like a piquant fishy candy. That’s a good thing.

Beef Tenderloin in Caramelized Sugar

4 pieces filet mignon, each 1 inch thick
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup nam pla, or to taste
1 large onion, cut in half-moon slices
1 teaspoon black pepper, or more.

Put a 10-inch skillet over high heat. Wait a minute. Add meat, and brown on both sides. Turn off heat, and place steaks on plate.

A minute later, add sugar to pan, and turn heat to medium. Cook, gently shaking pan, until sugar liquefies and begins to bubble. Cook another minute until it darkens, then turn off heat. Mix nam pla with  1/2 cup water. Carefully add liquid, and turn heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring constantly, until caramel melts into liquid. Add onions, and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Stir in any liquid that has accumulated around meat.

Stir in black pepper, and return meat to pan. Cook over medium heat, turning meat once in a while, until it is done to your liking (about 5 to 8 minutes for medium-rare). Taste, and adjust seasoning, then serve, spooning onions and sauce over each steak.

Serves 4

As a side, I made an even simpler accompaniment of pickled bean sprouts from Nicole Routhier’s The Foods of Vietnam. I halved this recipe because as tasty as they are, you can only eat so many bean sprouts and they don’t keep well.

Pickled Bean Sprouts
Dưa Giá

1 pound fresh bean sprouts
1 bunch of scallions, cut into 2-inch long sections
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup white vinegar

Mix the bean sprouts and scallions in a large bowl.

Combine the salt, vinegar and 4 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cool until warm to the touch. Pour the brine over the bean sprout mixture. Marinate for at least 1 hour, or until ready to serve. Drain before serving.

Serves 4 to 6

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  1. #

    I love how 1 lb of bean sprouts is halving the recipe–I’m not an explicit recipe-follower, but I’ve noticed the portions I can get of Asian ingredients are appropriate for a single (particular asian) family rather than a single (white as white could be) me. So I end up with years-worth, on m terms, of ingredients.

    April 11, 2007

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