I lived in Saint Louis, Missouri for a number of years after college, and there was an unassuming little Vietnamese place in my neighborhood called Pho Grand, which remains my favorite restaurant to this day. I had my favorite dish there (lemongrass tofu), which I got 90% of the time, and my second favorite dish (some other kind of tofu), which I got when I felt like I should be more adventurous and not just get the same thing every time. I tasted bits & pieces of friends’ dishes from time to time, and I just never had a bad dish there; literally everything was good. It made me fall in love with Vietnamese cuisine.
For some reason, I’ve never tried Vietnamese cooking at home. I guess I assumed that I couldn’t recreate an authentic taste like the ones I loved from Pho Grand. But when I stumbled across this recipe from Serious Eats, it looked so tasty (and so similar to what I remembered from the restaurant) that I thought I’d give it a shot.
Nothing about this recipe is particularly difficult, but there are a lot of steps, since there are two condiment recipes in addition to the main dish. Additionally, one of those condiments (the pickled vegetables) needs to be made in advance. I intended to make mine the night before, but forgot and ended up throwing it together the morning of. I have to admit that I was feeling a little bit grumpy as I stood in my kitchen julienning carrots (poorly) while my scone waited for me temptingly on the table. But in the end, it was 100% worth the effort.
I couldn’t find a daikon radish at my grocery store, so I used a few regular radishes instead. While not strictly authentic, they tasted fine to me. They did turn the entire pickle jar pink, which is kind of a perk in my opinion. I also mixed up the nuoc cham dipping sauce that morning. Really, the ideal plan would be to do all this prep the night before; the pork can be marinated in the fridge for 12 hours. By the time I finished the dipping sauce, I was really feeling my scone calling to me and wasn’t up to dealing with the marinade. I just did the 30-minute option at dinnertime instead, letting the pork marinate at room temperature before putting it on the grill.
Once all the prep is done, the dish comes together quickly. While the pork is grilling, you can boil the rice vermicelli, which takes just a few minutes. Because I was using an electric grill on a chilly day, my pork took longer to cook through than expected. (I’m not a huge fan of my electric grill, at least not on cool days, when it has a hard time holding its temperature.) But it does have the advantage of keeping meats juicier than a standard grill, so even though it cooked longer, the texture was still decent.
And the taste was seriously amazing. All the fresh, bright flavors I remembered from my old favorite restaurant were there. Lime juice, garlic, a little sugar, and the sharp pickled veggies were perfect complements to the savory pork. It’s an especially nice recipe for summer: cool and refreshing, with no oven required.
All in all, this is one of my favorite recipes of the year, and I’ll definitely be making it again. I’ve had good luck with Serious Eats in general, and am excited to try more of their dishes. (Tune in later this week for another Serious Eats find, an amazing restaurant-style General Tso’s Chicken from the renowned J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.)
Deliciousness score: 9
Easiness score: 6