Recipe: My variation on Chao Tom (Vietnamese Sugar Cane Shrimp)

Image of a plate of lemongrass curry pork-shrimp paste
Photo credit: Anthony Beal

This recipe was born of my inability to locate sugar cane the first time I ever attempted reproducing a delicious starter that I’d enjoyed at a Vietnamese restaurant. I had to settle instead for meat scented with the vibrant aromatics of lemongrass.  Damn the tasty, tasty luck.
What You’ll Need:

  • 2 tbps shrimp paste
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • ½ tsp hot madras curry powder
  • 2-3 sprigs of purple basil (regular green basil is fine if purple basil is unavailable)
  • 3-4 stalks of fresh lemongrass (each about 12 inches long)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

What To Do:

  1. (If using pre-packaged lemongrass sections, the following has likely been done already, in which case, skip this step). Otherwise, peel the outermost layer from each stalk of lemongrass. Wash  and cut the long stalks into approx. 6-inch section.  Using a sharp knife, lightly score each stalk several times toward its middle.  Lay these aside.
  2. On a cutting board or in a food processor, finely mince purple basil.  Add minced basil to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add ground pork, curry, and shrimp paste to bowl with basil.
  4. Using your hands or a large spoon, mix bowl contents until uniformly blended.
  5. Portion the blended mixture so that you’ve one good-sized meatball for each lemongrass section.
  6. Mold each meatball around the middle of each lemongrass section, leaving approximately half an inch to 1 inch of each section’s ends exposed.  See that the meat completely covers the score marks.
  7. Brush exposed ends with sesame oil, then grill or bake for 20-25 minutes or until meat is cooked through.

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