Since I first started writing this blog, one of the most requested dishes from my followers (believe it or not, I do have a following!) is Tom Khem, loosely translated as Sweet Salted Pork Stew with Hard Boiled Eggs. I totally understand how my generation would miss this homemade goodness, because it is nowadays rarely made the way our grandmothers and mothers make it. Its secret (ready for it?) lies in the making of the caramel, which is one of the hardest steps of this dish. It takes experience and a load of patience! I have seen people use oyster sauce and thick soy sauce to give it its golden brown signature color, but this method also alters its original taste. As a matter of fact, I tend to be weary of the authenticity of any Lao dish that calls for oyster sauce and soy sauce, as these ingredients did not make it to Laos until recently when the Chinese influence began to flood our market…
This dish also has counterparts in neighboring countries. For example the Vietnamese version uses various spices such as cinnamon and I’ve seen star anises, too. I have also seen some Thai version, which consists of purely hard boiled eggs simmered in the sauce. Our Lao version, the one I have grown up eating and making, however, is fairly straightforward with a short list of ingredients, its stars really being the fatty pork and hard boiled eggs. It usually requires the pork belly meat, layered with fat with skin still attached. Since I try to be health conscious, considering the amount of sugar and oil that goes into making its sauce, I usually opt for the pork shoulder, cut country style: it still has some fat, but most definitely leaner.
This is invariably a dish that makes my 10 year-old ask for a second helping of steamed rice, over which he pours the golden brown sauce and eat with a spoon! I hope you enjoy this family recipe!
- 2 lbs pork shoulder, country style, cut into 2 inches chunks
- 6 hard boiled eggs
- 1/3 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, lightly crushed
- 2 inches of ginger, halved, and lightly crush to release fragrance
- 3 tbs of fish sauce
How to make Tom Khem: