An easy, quick recipe for assam pork curry, prepared with sliced marbled pork or pork belly, curry spice, chilli paste, lemon grass, fresh curry leaves, and generous amount of coconut milk. Source (with adaptation): ‘Quick & Easy Hawker’s Fare’ by Chef Alan Koh.
I have Peranakan roots somewhere in my long, lost lineage of ancestors and descendants who had so bravely left their country of birth and survived the perilous journeys of the times, to the shores of Indonesia, Sumatra and Malaya to carve out better lives and futures for their families. Could this be why I have such an intrinsic, instinctive affinity for Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine? Who knows?
But as it turns out, I truly do love Peranakan cuisine. From a very young age, I was already happily ingesting heaps of chillies, spices and sambals. In fact, so much of it, that my friends thought I had a tongue made of leather, as to be seemingly incapable of feeling the intense sting or heat of these tongue-burning meals. I’ve grown up on a lot of classic Peranakan food, thanks to my parents’ home cooked meals throughout the years, but I’d have to say that curries are my absolute favourite!
These days, when I want curry in a hurry, a Peranakan dish of assam pork curry usually comes to mind. It’s meaty, saucy, spicy, tangy, fragrant, and creamily delicious! This curry dish doesn’t need major cooking experience, which is great for newbie cooks looking to make an easy, simple and tasty curry.
I’m a huge fan of curries – I’ve probably said so a zillion times, I know! – so this and other curries are regular meals I cook up at home (check out this nonya chicken curry and easy, delicious beef rendang). This assam pork curry scores a lot of points with me for a couple of reasons. For starters, I don’t need to spend a lot of time peeling, cutting, chopping, pounding or even blending different spices and ingredients together.
See? Nothing to chop really …. okay, maybe just one, but that’s absolutely it.
Another huge plus for me is that it doesn’t require ready-made or commercially packaged curry pastes which come loaded with flavourings and preservatives. The closest thing to a commercial paste used here is chilli paste, which can even be substituted with home-made chilli paste if you’re trying to go really healthy with your food choices. Me, I don’t really mind relying on a little convenience food every now and then! I just can’t see myself squeezing freshly grated coconut for coconut milk, know what I mean?
Assam pork curry is delicious even right after it’s cooked. Enjoy this, spooned generously with curry gravy over steamed jasmine rice, and with a side dish of achar.
An easy, quick recipe for assam pork curry, prepared with sliced marbled pork or pork belly, curry spice, chilli paste, lemon grass, fresh curry leaves, and generous amount of coconut milk. Source (with adaptation): 'Quick & Easy Hawker's Fare' by Chef Alan Koh.
- 500 g lean or marbled pork
- 5 tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 tbsp chopped shallots
- 3 stalks lemon grass
- 5 tbsp chilli paste
- 2 tbsp meat curry powder
- 3 sprigs curry leaves
- 5 pieces dried tamarind peel
- 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 200 ml water for tamarind pulp
- 250 ml water
- 200 - 250 ml coconut milk
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 - 1 1/2 tsp salt
Slice pork into 2-cm (1-inch) thick chunks, or 6-mm thick stir-fry slices. Mix tamarind pulp with 200 ml water (squeeze and press the pulp in water with your fingers) and strain to obtain the juice. Cut each lemon grass stalk about 2-3 inches away from its base. Discard the top. Bruise lightly with the pestle.
Heat up oil in a wok or cooking pot over medium heat. When hot, add shallots and stir-fry for a minute or so until fragrant. Then add in all the remaining spices, and fry together until the mixture is fragrant with the aroma of the combined spices. Be careful not to burn the spice mix - if it gets too dry, add 1 to 2 tbsp of coconut milk to the mix.
Add pork slices and continue to stir fry, making sure that pork slices are well coated with the spices. Fry for about 5 minutes.
Pour in the tamarind juice, water and coconut milk. Mix well and bring mixture back to a gentle boil. Add seasonings and reduce heat to allow for gentle simmering. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the meat is tender, and gravy is of your desired consistency (please read Recipe Notes below.)
#1. I tend to use a generous amount of curry leaves as I simply love their aroma and unique flavour in my curries. Also, they add a nice subtle dash of green to an otherwise crimson-orange coloured dish. You can use as little or as much as you like to suit your preference. If you intend to remove them at the end of cooking, simply add whole sprigs (with leaves attached) into the cook and remove them at the end of cooking.
#2. If you find the gravy slightly too thick, or if the mixture is drying up too quickly before the pork becomes tender, add water, a little each time, during cooking . If the gravy is too thin, let it simmer longer so as to reduce water content. Do a taste test and adjust to your preference - it should be spicily sweet, sour and with just enough saltiness to bring it all together. Feel free to reduce or add coconut milk, depending on how rich or 'creamy' you like your curries.
#3. You can use pork belly in place of lean pork, just note that pork belly may take longer (about 45 minutes to an hour) to braise till tender. Cut into bite-size cubes to shorten braising time.
#4. The flavour of meat curries are even more enhanced the day after, so if preparing this dish for a party or gathering, do so a day in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator until required. Bring back to a gentle boil over low heat when required.