In a year where the restaurant industry took hit after hit, we were so thrilled to not only see a new place pop up here in town recently, but also learn that it’s healthy, gluten free, and FREAKING DELICIOUS!
Ahem. It doesn’t take much these days.
Anyway, we feel like we hit the jackpot. Papaya features Southeast Asian cuisine with a California twist and the concept is similar to Chipotle’s where you can build a bowl (or Banh Mi!) with your choice of a starch or salad base plus meat, toppings, and sauce. Their sliced steak is out of this world tender and delicious, but Papaya’s pork was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. Sweet yet savory, hmmm, what could this be?
I literally Googled “sweet Vietnamese pork” and up popped Vietnamese Caramelized Pork – well whaddya know!
What is Caramelized Pork?
Caramelized Pork is pork that’s been caramelized in a mixture of brown sugar and fish sauce in a wok over high heat. Sounds crazy, but it’s actually just crazy delicious. Fish sauce caramel leaves the pork lacquered, sizzling, and equal parts subtly sweet and packed with umami flavor.
As you know, I love to recreate my favorite restaurant dishes and couldn’t wait to toss together my go-to Papaya bowl combo at home. Here’s where I landed: Vietnamese-Style Caramelized Ground Pork Bowls feature caramelized ground pork served over cilantro lime cauliflower rice, topped with quick pickled carrots, steamed broccoli, sliced jalapenos and green onions. A green curry coconut drizzle on top wraps it all up.
These bowls are so good.
Beyond fresh and delicious too, plus it’s 90% vegetables! That said, if you don’t dig cauliflower rice, feel free to serve these bowls over regular Cilantro Lime Rice (<< visit the Notes section of that recipe for the white rice recipe.)
Ground Pork Bowl Ingredients
Although you might go a little cross eyed looking at the ingredient list for this recipe, for us, they’re nearly all fridge, freezer, counter, and pantry staples. Plus several ingredients, including salt and pepper, lime juice, and chopped cilantro, are used in several elements of the bowls.
Two of the ingredients that might be considered “specialty” items are fish sauce and green curry paste, both of which I can find at my regular grocery store. I like Thai Kitchen brand for both items, which are also gluten free.
This is a great recipe to make with a loved one or friend. One tackles the toppings while the other takes care of the hot wok. Assemble and enjoy together. That said, you can tackle it all by your rockstar self in under an hour.
Ready to get started?!
Step 1: Make the Quick-Pickled Carrots
This tangy, crunchy bowl topper is super simple and make ahead too. Microwave distilled vinegar, water, sugar, and salt for one minute then stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour over grated carrots (I use store-bought to save time) then refrigerate. That’s it!
Step 2: Caramelize the Ground Pork
To a large wok or skillet over high heat, saute ground pork with chopped shallots, garlic, dried ginger, salt, and pepper until the ground pork is barely cooked through. Next add brown sugar and fish sauce then stir to combine.
Time to caramelize! Spread the ground pork into an even layer in the bottom of the wok or skillet then let it sizzle for 2 minutes undisturbed. Stir then spread the pork back out and sizzle for another 2 minutes – again, undisturbed! If you move the pork around too much it won’t have a chance to caramelize.
Continue to sizzle then stir the pork in 2 minute increments – 1 minute increments near the end so the sugar doesn’t burn – until the pork is golden brown and caramelized, 5-6 minutes. Scoop the pork onto a paper towel lined plate to drain then set aside.
Step 3: Make the Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice
Heat a little vegetable oil in the wok over high heat then add fresh or frozen cauliflower rice, season with salt and pepper, then stir fry until crisp tender, 3-4 minutes. I use a bag of frozen cauli rice for convenience. Stir in a squeeze of fresh lime juice plus chopped fresh cilantro then scoop the rice into a serving dish or bowl and set aside.
Step 4: Make the Green Curry Drizzle
Place the wok back over medium high heat then add green curry paste. Use a spatula to mash and smash it and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add full fat coconut milk, a splash of chicken broth, and a pinch of sugar then simmer the sauce until it’s slightly thickened and reduced, 3-4 minutes. Squeeze in a touch of lime juice then stir to combine.
All together now! Scoop the Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice into bowls then top with the Caramelized Ground Pork, Quick Pickled Carrots, and even more toppings including sliced jalapenos, chopped green onions, steamed broccoli AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE! I mean, the Green Curry Drizzle. SO GOOD!! I hope you love this fun and phenomenally tasty take on Vietnamese Caramelized Pork – enjoy!
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Vietnamese-Style Caramelized Ground Pork Bowls
Vietnamese-Style Caramelized Ground Pork Bowls are fresh and packed with good-for-you ingredients. Get the restaurant experience at home!
- For the Quick-Pickled Carrots:
- 4oz grated carrots
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the Caramelized Ground Pork:
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1lb ground pork
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- For the Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice:
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 12oz fresh or frozen cauliflower rice
- salt and pepper
- squeeze fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- For the Green Curry Drizzle:
- 2 Tablespoons green curry paste (I like Thai Kitchen)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (I like full fat)
- 2 Tablespoons chicken broth
- squeeze fresh lime juice
- For the toppings:
- 8oz broccoli florets, steamed
- sliced jalapeños
- chopped cilantro
- chopped green onion
- For the Quick-Pickled Carrots: Add vinegar, water, sugar, and salt into a microwave safe dish then microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved then pour over carrots, stir to combine, and refrigerate. Can be done several days ahead of time.
- For the Caramelized Ground Pork: Place 2 layers of paper towel on a large plate then set aside. Heat oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add ground pork, shallot, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper (to taste) then saute until pork is just barely cooked through, breaking it up as it cooks. Add brown sugar and fish sauce to the skillet then stir to combine. Spread pork into an even layer in the bottom of the wok or skillet then saute for 2 minutes - DO NOT DISTURB OR STIR THE PORK as it caramelizes. Stir then spread the pork into an even layer again and cook for 2 more minutes, undisturbed. Continue cooking then stirring in two minute increments - leaving the pork alone as it cooks and caramelizes - until the pork is brown and caramelized. You may need to cook in 1 minute increments near the end to prevent the sugar from burning. Scrape the caramelized pork onto prepared paper towel lined plate to drain then set aside.
- For the Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice: Get out a serving bowl then set aside. Place wok or skillet back over high heat then add oil. Once oil is hot, add cauliflower rice, season with salt and pepper, then stir fry until cauliflower is crisp tender, 3-4 minutes. Add lime juice and chopped cilantro then stir to combine. Scrape cauliflower rice into serving bowl then set aside.
- For the Green Curry Drizzle: Place wok or skillet back over medium high heat. Add curry paste then saute for 30 seconds, scraping/flattening/stirring it with a spatula. Add coconut milk, chicken broth, and sugar then stir until smooth and bring sauce to a simmer. Turn heat down to medium then simmer until sauce is slightly thickened and reduced, 3-4 minutes. Squeeze in a little lime juice to taste.
- To assemble: Scoop the Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice into bowls then top with the Caramelized Ground Pork, Quick Pickled Carrots, toppings, and Green Curry Drizzling Sauce.
Adapted from RecipeTinEats
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.