Thai cuisine is wonderful. Growing up in New Hampshire, I can’t ever remember seeing a Thai restaurant. It wasn’t until I lived in New York City that I had my first Thai dish – Tom Yum Goong. It was a rather unassuming dish that came highly recommended from the server. My first bite was impressive, the second divine. The soup was spicy, salty, sour, and sweet. Everything was in perfect balance. That, I learned is the basis of Thai cuisine – balance. The hot doesn’t outweigh the salty which doesn’t outweigh the sweet. You can taste everything.
My recipe for Thai Coconut Pork balances sweet and salty together by melding coconut milk and peanut butter. If you so desire, you could easily spice this dish by adding hot sauce or a diced chile. This is a quick and easy go to dish that can be made in under thirty minutes.
Ingredients (4 servings)
For the sauce
- 1/2c Coconut Milk (highest fat content you can find)
- 1/3c Chicken Stock
- 2 tbsp Peanut Butter
- 1 tsp Honey (only if using natural peanut butter)
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger (substitute 1 tsp ground ginger)
- 1 tbsp Sriracha (Thai hot sauce) – optional
- Corn starch slurry (2 tbsp corn starch and 1 tbsp water whisked together in a separate bowl)
For the pork
- 4 center cut Pork Chops
- 1/2 Red Bell Pepper, diced
- 1/4c Flour
- 2 tsp Paprika
- 1 tsp Salt
1. Measure all of the sauce ingredients, put into a mixing bowl, and whisk together until combined. Coconut milk is canned and can be found in the ethnic aisle of any major grocery store. The milk used in this recipe is 12% fat which is one of the highest I ‘ve ever seen. When you open the can, you will most likely find a solid mass at the top and water underneath. If this is the case, pour out all of this into a separate bowl, whisk together and then measure. If you are going to add Sriracha, don’t go overboard and break the balance.
Now do yourself a favor, taste the sauce. This is the time to adjust anything. Can you taste the ginger? Can you taste the coconut and the peanut butter separately? If you added hot sauce, can you feel the heat without it overwhelming the rest of your senses? If something is missing, add a little more in to the sauce, whisk again thoroughly, and let it sit a minute or two. Then repeat until you are happy. As a note, cooking the sauce is going to mellow the sweetness of the coconut milk, so if you think it is overpoweringly sweet, that will subside.
2. Before we dress the pork, this is the time to prepare whatever side dish will go with the pork. I served this alongside blanched and sauteed green beans. This would also be wonderful served atop a big pile of rice. You will also want to take the time to dice the red pepper if you haven’t already.
I highly recommend you do not skip the pepper. It adds a cool, crunchy texture that will offset the smooth, hot sauce.
3. On to the pork. Place the flour, paprika, and salt on a plate and stir with your fingers to combine. I use salt minimally here because the sauce contains most of the salty flavors we will need and we don’t want to over salt the dish. Salt is a flavor enhancer, not an additional flavor. Put each pork chop into the flour, flip over to coat both sides, and shake any excess off. You should have a red-speckled chop by the time you are finished.
4. When your side dish is five to seven minutes from finishing, it is time to cook the pork chops. Put some olive oil into a saute pan and turn to medium high (that would be a number 7 on the dial). When the oil is hot, put each chop in. If you don’t hear a sizzle, you didn’t wait long enough. Cook the chops until golden, flip and cook on the other side.
I’ve demonstrated in the picture to the right what happens to meat when the pan is not hot enough.The chop in the back and to the left of the pan were placed inthe pan shortly after putting oil in the pan, the chop in the middle and the right were put in at the right time.
Color = flavor = happy smiles when eating.
5. Press on the center of the chops. If it is firm but springy, it is most likely done. This is what I call the push test in cooking. If you can master the push test for meat, you will never worry whether your meat is finished cooking on the inside. Still, if you want to be sure, you can use a meat thermometer to check. Take the chops out and place under some aluminum foil or in a separate pan with a lid over it to keep warm. Turn the heat of your skillet to high. Pour the coconut-peanut butter sauce into the pan. With a whisk, scrape up as many of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan as you can. When the sauce comes to a boil, slowly pour the corn-starch slurry into the mixture while whisking the sauce in the pan. The slurry will thicken the sauce. Ensure that you keep whisking until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This will happen very quickly.
6. Now it’s time to assemble your plate. Place the pork chop on the plate, spoon on a healthy serving of sauce, and top with raw red bell pepper and peanuts. If serving this alongside rice, I would put a serving of rice on the plate, and pile this on top. The juices from the pork and coconut sauce will seep into the rice. Here, I’ve served this alongside some basic sauteed green beans.