Aubrie Pick

Sweet, salty, crispy, juicy, these thin slabs of marinated meat come together in the time it takes for a Doordash delivery. So what are you waiting for? Grill this now!

Hugh Garvey  – May 3, 2019

The sun is out. The air is warm. The grill is hot! Every Friday until it gets too cold, Sunset food editor Hugh Garvey will present the recipes he’s putting on his three (!) grills in Los Angeles. Follow along, and if you make the recipes, too, we’d love to see how they come out. Put those pics on Instagram, tag @sunsetmag, and use the hashtag #GrillThisNow.

The first Vietnamese pork chop I ate was a revelation: It was tinged orange, thin, but somehow juicier than the thick and dry pork chops I grew up eating, and it was charred black on the edges, where the sugary, briny marinade quick-cured the fat to a bacon-like salty-sweetness. To a hungover twenty-something spending the last $10 of his paycheck in New York City’s Chinatown, it was perfect. I didn’t realize how much better it could be until I cooked the version in Andrea Nguyen’s new Vietnamese Food Any Day, a cookbook that basically unlocks the chile-spiked, lime juice-lashed, herb-showered, fish-sauce-funked cuisine for any home cook with access to a decent supermarket. If you don’t already know Nguyen, she’s authored pretty much the entire English-language canon of Vietnamese cookery. She wrote the book on pho. Literally. It’s called The Pho Cookbook.

With a prep and cook time of 45 minutes, Nguyen’s take on the Vietnamese restaurant staple comes together in about the same time as a Doordash delivery. The difference between these chops and standard takeout fare is worth the minimal effort. Simply plug in your blender, peel some alliums, dump in some standard-issue sauces and sweeteners, and blitz it all up. The thin chops take on the flavor of the marinade in no time. A few turns on a blazing hot grill (or grill pan) crisps them up in minutes.

Instead of the hangover-soothing, cloying pork candy of my youth, these chops taste of citrusy, herby lemongrass, with a subtle molasses bass note in harmony with a hint of briny fish sauce. The part where meat meets fat meets bone is particularly satisfying to gnaw on. You could serve these with the traditional accompaniment of nuoc cham, the chile-spiked sweet and sour dipping sauce, but these chops were sweet enough for me so I stirred up a sugar-free sauce of chopped Thai bird chiles and equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, drizzled it on the chops and some steamed rice, and it was perfect.

I spoke with Nguyen on the phone to run my apocryphal sugar-free sauce idea by her. She assured me that the nuoc cham was entirely optional and that that’s part of the point of her new book. So what did I make?

“You made a dipping sauce you wanted,” she kindly proffered. “You can adjust the dish according to your palate and figure out how to get Vietnamese flavors the way you want and not the way a restaurant wants to give them to you.” I’ll cook to that. All summer long.

Get the Recipe: Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops