There’s a bit of mystery surrounding a true bowl of Cao Lau. It’s basically a regional Vietnamese noodle dish with spiced pork and bean shoots, but the secret ingredient is water from an undisclosed ancient Cham well, just outside the coastal town of Hoi An. That’s for the official version. Obviously not all of us have an ancient Cham well in our backyards, but pork stock or water will do fine. When you visit Hoi An, you’ll spot the authentic Cao Lau restaurants in the backstreets of the town, identifiable by their hanging red and green lanterns. It’s a unique noodle dish in Vietnam because it doesn’t really include any soup.
Our newest Gourmet Explorer – Vietnam includes a cooking class at Hoi An’s famous Morning Glory Cooking School, and it’s there that we picked up this recipe. Sweet, spicy and sour by turns – it’s a refreshing change from the usual banh mi and pho you find in most local Vietnamese restaurants. Here’s how you make it.
½ kg pork loin
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 stick lemongrass, bruised
½ tsp five spice
3 tsp sugar
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp coarse black pepper
1 tblsp garlic, pounded
3 tblsp soy sauce
2 cups pork stock
200gr bean sprouts, blanched
500gr thick Chinese wheat noodles or ramen noodles
100gr mixed herbs; anise basil, coriander, mustard sprouts, lettuce, chrysanthemum leaves
4 rice crackers
½ cup cao lau croutons-see NB
½ cup spring onion curls
4 red chilli slices
soy sauce on the side
What to do
First, heat oil in pan, add lemongrass and cook slowly to release fragrance. You’ll be able to smell it pretty soon.
In a bowl, coat the pork well with the five spice, 1 tsp of the sugar, salt, pepper and garlic. Place the pork in the hot pan with the lemongrass and sear well on all sides, being careful not to overcook garlic.
Add soy sauce and 1tsp of sugar, coat the meat well, cook slowly and reduce for a few minutes. Then, add 1 cup stock and cook slowly for 10 minutes on each side until sauce is reduced and forms a sticky glaze. Remove the pork and set aside.
Add 1 cup of stock and 1 tsp of sugar to the pan, bring to boil, then turn off heat. Cut pork into thin slices. Heat the bean sprouts in boiling water for 30 seconds, then add the noodles for a further 30 seconds and strain well.
In 4 serving bowls place a cup each of blanched bean sprouts and some of the noodles. Arrange the herbs on the edge of the bowl so they stay fresh and crunchy and top with the pork slices.
Pour 2 small ladles of sauce over pork and garnish with spring onion curls and a slice of red chilli. Serve with rice crackers and soy sauce on the side. This recipe should serve 4 people as a main.
Learn the recipe from the experts on our Gorumet Explorer – Vietnam tour: a food-focussed itinerary through some of Vietnam’s best restaurants and street stalls.
Feature image c/o teasmoked.tumblr.com. Recipe courtesy of the Morning Glory Cooking School, Hoi An.