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Soi 4's Coconut Braised Pork Shoulder

Even the decent Thai restaurants in this country mostly offer the same monotonous menu items. When not ordering pad thai, the customer is usually asked to choose a protein they wish to drown in red, yellow, or green curry. Most of the time, the protein of choice comes in the form of a thin, tough nugget of meat that would be flavorless and unappetizing were it not swimming in sauce and flanked by crimped vegetables.

Soi 4, a Bangkok eatery in Oakland, California, deviates from this model entirely, requiring no input from the customer to achieve perfectly balanced food, skillfully prepared without ambiguity. It’s their take, not our take, on traditional/contemporary Bangkok cuisine. Their meats are either wok fried to crispy perfection, barbequed just until tender, or braised until fall-off-the-bone succulent.

Tom Sirimongkolvit of Soi 4 courteously shared his restaurant’s recipe with our blog for kang kua mu: “coconut braised pork shoulder, kabocha squash, and Thai basil in a tangy red curry.” For this recipe, blanched hunks of pork are braised in a sauce of coconut milk and red curry, to which wedges of blanched kabocha squash are added and simmered. Kaffir lime leaves and juice, Thai basil, fish sauce, and tamarind juice are added at the end to lend the sauce its mouthwatering tang. The result is a beautifully ruddy, warm, tender curry that is ideal for cold days, large parties, or an après-ski meal. It can be made in advance and reheated and is ideally served with steamed rice and a side green vegetable.

If you’re looking to cook outside the box this season, Soi 4’s kang kua mu will not disappoint. It is Thai comfort food at its finest, soul-satisfying with undeniable style and flair. It takes the mystery out of Thai cooking and, best of all, the Thai cooking out of redundant take-out.

Serves 3-4

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs pork shoulder

2 lbs Kabocha squash (one small squash)

6 cups of coconut milk

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

6 tbsp red curry paste

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons tamarind juice

3 tablespoons fish sauce (adjust according to your taste)

juice from 1 kaffir lime

2 tablespoons of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves

½ cup of Thai basil leaves

DIRECTIONS

Trim the pork shoulder, removing as much fat as possibile from the meat. Place the pork in a large pot and fill with cold water, submerging the pork. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to low to simmer pork, total cook time 25 minutes. When finished, remove pork from water and allow to cool. Once cool, cut pork into large 3-4 inch chunks. The pork should be completely cooked through but slightly pink in the center.

Peel the Kabocha squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds and pulp inside. Cut squash into 3-4 inch pieces. Blanch the squash in boiling water for 4-5 minutes, until cooked but al dente. Set aside to cool.

Separate the the coconut "milk" from the "cream"; the "milk" will be on the bottom of the can and will look mostly translucent, whereas the "cream" rises to the top of the can and is white.

In a small pot, add the pork pieces and cover it with 4 cups of coconut "milk." If you don't have enough "milk" once separated, add in some of the "cream" to get to the 4 cups. Pour the coconut milk into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, total cook time 30 minutes.

In a separte medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add in the cury paste and cook for 3 minutes until the paste is fragrant. Add in the remaining 2 cups of coconut "cream" and stir to combine. Set aside.

Once the pork has simmered for 30 minutes, pour into the pot with the curry cream mixture. Stir to combine. Over high heat bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow the pork to simmer for 1½ hours. Add in the squash, cover, and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. The pork should be so tender it easily flakes with a fork and the sauce should be thick enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon. With a spoon, skim off reddish oil that has risen to the top.

Add in the sugar, tamarind juice, fish sauce, kaffir lime juice, and lime leaves. Stir to combine and continue to cook for 2 minutes. The sauce should be a balance of salty, sweet, and sour. Add in the basil and serve over steamed rice.

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