When my daughter, Alex, and I went to Ho Chi Minh City (still Saigon to me) for what was clearly intended to be a extended food trip, we included a cooking class in our itinerary. I booked slots well ahead of time and, on the scheduled day, we waited to be picked up at our hotel in District 1 to be taken to the cooking school in Cu Chi.
It was a delightful experience. There was just one other participant, an Australian who loves food as much as we do. During the hour-long drive to Cu Chi, he told us that he attended a cooking class in every Asian city he visited.
First stop was the local market where we were introduced to local ingredients. Then, we headed to the school which was in the middle of a farm. The school grew the fruits and vegetables that were used in class.
The class lasted for several hours. We learned to make Vietnamese fish sauce the right way, and we cooked a total of four dishes — shrimp spring rolls for our appetizer, a beef and vegetable salad, a claypot chicken dish and banana spring rolls served with ice cream for dessert.
The chicken dish which we enjoyed with rice was cooked in a claypot. I was amazed at how fast the dish cooked. Yet, the chicken was able to soak up the flavors of all the spices and seasonings. And, when I lifted the lid after the specified cooking time, as the steam hit my face, I was also greeted with the distinct aroma of Thai basil.
That’s us with our claypot chicken and mushrooms with Thai basil. Even after enjoying our shrimp spring rolls, and beef and vegetable salad, we managed to finish out claypot creation with gusto. What can I say? Flavorful chicken and rice are just such ideal partners.
This recipe is an adaptation of that chicken dish. We substituted pork for the chicken, braised the meat and mushrooms a little longer, and served the dish with fried egg. The result was simply superb.
Pork and oyster mushrooms with Thai basil
- Cut the pork loin into half-inch cubes.
- In a bowl, combine the fish sauce and oyster sauce. Add the pork and mix well. Cover, refrigerate and marinate for at least an hour.
- Cut off the roots and dark green portions of the lemongrass, and discard.
- Peel off and discard the outer layer of the remaining (light-coloreportion of the stalks to get the usable part. Lightly pound the usable part and mince.
- Peel the skin off the ginger, then mince.
- Smash the garlic cloves, shake off the skins and discard. Mince the garlic.
- Cut off and discard the top part (with the stem) of the chilies. Split in the chilies in half, scrape off and discard the seeds (unless you want your dish to be super spicy) before mincing.
- Set the stove to medium-high. Heat up a large thick-bottomed pan and pour in the oil.
- Sauté the lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilies, until just starting to turn brown.
- Add the pork. Stir then spread them out in a single layer. When the pork changes color, flip them over.
- Add a cup of water. Stir. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn up the heat and allow to boil uncovered to reduce the liquid.
- Tear the mushrooms apart into bite-size pieces.
- Add the mushrooms to the pork, stir, and place a sprig of basil on top. Cover the pan tightly.
- Count ten seconds then turn off the heat. Wait ten minutes before lifting the cover. The pork should be done at this point.
- Scoop out the contents of the pan and transfer to a shallow bowl. Optionally, garnish with fried shallots and cilantro before serving.