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Published September 1, 2009.   From Cook’s Illustrated.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:To get uniform, moist pieces of meat in our Thai pork lettuce wrap recipe, we chopped pork in the food processor and then marinated it in a little fish sauce so it would retain moisture during cooking. To refine our Thai pork recipe’s taste, we added sugar to balance the tart (lime juice), salty (fish sauce), and hot (dried chiles) flavors characteristic of Thai cuisine.

SERVE 6 AS AN APPETIZER OR 4 AS A MAIN COURSE

We prefer natural pork in this recipe. If using enhanced pork, skip the marinating in step 2 and reduce the amount of fish sauce to 2 tablespoons, adding it all in step 5. Don’t skip the toasted rice; it’s integral to the texture and flavor of the dish. Any style of white rice can be used. Toasted rice powder (kao kua) can also be found in many Asian markets. This dish can be served with sticky rice and steamed vegetables as an entrée. To save time, prepare the other ingredients while the pork is in the freezer.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1pork tenderloin (about 1 pound), trimmed of silver skin and fat, cut into 1-inch chunks (see note)
  • 2 1/2tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1tablespoon white rice (see note)
  • 1/4cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2medium shallots , peeled and sliced into thin rings (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3tablespoons juice from 2 limes
  • 2teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 3tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1head Bibb lettuce , washed and dried, leaves separated and left whole

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place pork chunks on large plate in single layer. Freeze meat until firm and starting to harden around edges but still pliable, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Place half of meat in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, 5 to six 1-second pulses. Transfer ground meat to medium bowl and repeat with remaining chunks. Stir 1 tablespoon fish sauce into ground meat and marinate, refrigerated, 15 minutes.
  3. Heat rice in small skillet over medium-high heat; cook, stirring constantly, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool 5 minutes. Grind rice with spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).
  4. Bring broth to simmer in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring frequently, until about half of pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon rice powder over pork; continue to cook, stirring constantly, until remaining pork is no longer pink, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Transfer pork to large bowl; let cool 10 minutes.
  5. Add remaining 1½ tablespoons fish sauce, remaining 2 teaspoons rice powder, shallots, lime juice, sugar, red pepper flakes, mint, and cilantro to pork; toss to combine. Serve with lettuce leaves.

TECHNIQUE

KEYS TO TENDER, FLAVORFUL PORK

GRIND YOUR OWN
Supermarket ground pork is fatty and grainy when cooked. Grinding lean pork tenderloin ensures the best texture.

SOAK IN FISH SAUCE
Marinating the pork in fish sauce for 15 minutes boosts flavor and helps the meat retain moisture and tenderness.

COOK IN BROTH
Cooking the pork in 1/4 cup of broth, instead of a whole pot of water, adds flavor and keeps the meat from expelling moisture.

ADD RICE POWDER
Sprinkling toasted rice powder into the pork contributes nutty flavor and adds body.

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