I had made this recipe twice and was going to write about it last week when I realized that I wasn’t fully satisfied with it. For that reason, I waited to meet a writing deadline for the Los Angeles Times, and then I gifted myself time to play and tinker with these pork satay with coconut and condensed milk.
As you know, I’ve got a lot of sweetened condensed milk on hand, thanks to my dad. This recipe used a decent amount for a rich finish on the pork. It’s a nifty trick to combine it with coconut milk, soy sauce, curry powder and salt – a very easy path to Southeast Asian grilled satay skewers. I made the recipe with regular and caramel-flavored sweetened condensed milk and liked them both, though the caramel one had a touch of extra depth. You can tell which is which below:
Decoding a restaurant cookbook
The original recipe came from the Night+Market cookbook from the eponymous restaurant in Los Angeles. It’s one of my favorite Thai restaurants in America and I’ve been going there for years! But sometimes restaurant cookbooks are written to reflect what’s done in a restaurant kitchen versus in a home kitchen. The original version by chef/restaurateur Kris Yenbamroong included a step to prep the pork steaks in lots of kosher salt and sugar. I was skeptical and did a side by side test of one with the brine and the other without.
The brined result was lightly saltier but not more flavorful or spectacular than the unbrined version. My first two rounds of testing were with pork shoulder steaks:
When I reread the recipe introduction, I realized that Kris used pork shoulder steaks because it was easier than thinly slicing the pork and skewering satays – a Southeast Asian street food treat. I interpreted that as code for: You should skewer the pork to revert to the chef’s original intention. He was generous and honest to reveal why he deviated from a traditional recipe. Home cooks, who do not have to prep for hundreds of people daily can manage a small batch of skewers with little problem.
Simplified satays for the win
This afternoon with little time to let the pork marinate for long, I sliced up most of the meat, added it to the marinade, and then let it hang out for about 30 minutes. (As a test, I left one piece as a steak.) Then I skewered the sliced meat and cooked it, along with the pork steak, on a cast iron grill pan; it was raining outdoors so I chose the pan (mine is a skinny Le Creuset but you can choose a round one; Staub has ones that heat up well too).
The smoke detector went off and my husband ran to fan the smoke and calm the detector. The sugar stuck on the pan but was easy to knock off with tongs. I’ll cook outdoors next time but the flavorful, tender results were worth the minor inconvenience. The skewered pork for a weeknight dinner was an easy win. The pork steaks could have used a longer – 2 hour or overnight marinade. I held back some of the marinade and used it as a sauce, so even though the steaks could have been marinated longer, the sauce made up the difference.
Tips and tweaks
The cucumber and carrot mixture that goes with the pork satays is akin to very fast pickle, a rendition of Indonesian acar done Thai style. It’s traditionally dressed with a thick tangy simple syrup but I prefer to use honey for a shortcut that tastes a little rounder too.
Because I was too lazy to make another vegetable side, I turned the pickled into a side salad. Here’s what you want to do if you decided to take that path: For the dressing, mix the honey with 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Add an extra cucumber plus about 2 packed cups of thinly sliced jicama and/or raw beet. Toss and let the vegetables sit for 5 to 10 minutes to soften slightly, then taste and add extra sugar or vinegar to balance flavors. Toss in a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro at the end then serve. Add a side of rice, and you’ve got a great meal.
Use boneless skinless chicken thighs, if you don’t want to cook with pork. Though I have to say, the pork is quite delicious!
My favorite wooden skewers are these fat, sturdy ones, which won’t bend. If you see flat ones, they’re great for preventing food from sliding around. You’ll need about six 10 to 12-inch skewers for a batch of these pork satays. There’s no need to pre-soak the skewers if you’re grilling indoors.
This is an easy, fast way to create tropical flavor from a surprising source – sweetened condensed milk!
- Check that out! New York Times included Vietnamese Food Any Day among its picks for Spring 2019 Cookbooks! I’m so jazzed to be selected with a great list of new cookbooks and author, many of whom are friends and colleagues.
- Because the dinners at Di An Di restaurant in New York sold out so fast, we’re adding another seating for Monday, 4/29 at 7:30pm.
- Just added to my NY events: Saturday, 4/27, 4-6pm at Kitchen Arts and Letters! Join me to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day and VFAD! Drinks and snacks will be provided for free. We also have cool gifts with a purchase of the new book. Hope to see you then.
- Thanks for your support.
Pork Satay with Condensed Milk and Coconut
- 1 cup less 2 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk
- 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk regular or caramel flavored
- 1 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon Madras-style curry powder
- 1 pinch ground white pepper
Pork and pickle
- 1 1/4 pounds fatty boneless pork shoulder
- 1 to 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons thick raw honey
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar such as Heinz
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 Persian cucumbers cut on the diagonal into 1/4 thick slices
- 1/3 cup matchstick-cut carrot
- 1/3 cup thinly slice red onion cut lengthwise along the grain
- Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a small saucepan then warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar just melts. Set aside to cool.
- If making satays, cut the pork across the grain into thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick and 3 inches long. If making pork steaks, cut the pork across the grain into palm-size pieces 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.
- Once the marinade has cooled, remove 1/3 cup of the marinade to use later during cooking and to serve as a sauce. Transfer the remaining marinade to a bowl.
Add the pork and use your hands or tongs to coat well. Cover and let the pork sit for 30 minutes up to 2 hours at room temperature. (Pork steaks can sit overnight in the fridge, if you like; return to room temperature before grilling.)
When making satays, thread the pork onto skewers, making sure there is no visible gap between pieces and slightly scrunch up the meat to ensure juicy results. (Remove the pork steaks from the marinade, if doing steaks.) Discard the marinade that the raw meat sat in.
- When ready to grill, heat a grill until it’s very hot. Brush the pork lightly with oil, then grill for about 2 to 3 minutes per side for satays (4 to 5 minutes per side for steaks). After the pork loses its pinkness, brush on some of the reserved marinade to coax deep caramelization and charring. As needed, knock off the darkened bits stuck to the grill. Discard any leftover marinade that the pork was submerged in.
- Let the pork rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl stir together the honey, vinegar and salt. Add the cucumber, carrot and onion. Toss and transfer to a bowl. Serve with the pork and reserved marinade, if diners want extra sauce.