Assam Pork Curry (Tamarind Pork Curry)
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.
These days, when I want curry in a hurry, a tantalising dish of assam pork curry usually comes to mind. It’s so many things in one simple dish! Meaty, saucy, spicy, tangy, fragrant, and creamily delicious!
This curry dish doesn’t need major cooking experience. And that makes it a great dish for noob cooks looking to make an easy, simple and tasty curry.
As it turned out, I have Peranakan roots somewhere in my long lost lineage of ancestors and descendants. Back when they had left their country of birth and survived the perilous journeys of the times, to the shores of Indonesia, Sumatra and Malaya.
All in search of better lives and futures for their families. Maybe this is why I have long felt such an intrinsic and instinctive affinity for Peranakan cuisine. Who knows?
Peranakan Chinese and 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.
I seemed totally incapable of feeling the intense sting or heat of these tongue-burning meals. But as it turns out, I truly do love Peranakan cuisine.
This cuisine is that of the Straits-born Chinese or Peranakan Chinese. They are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled on the Malay Archipelago as early as the 15th century.
Many of these Chinese immigrants married the local Malays and Indonesians. Intermarriages were not only common, but even favoured and encouraged. As a result, a unique and distinctive Peranakan cuisine evolved.
It combines elements of Chinese cooking with Malaysian and Indonesian influences. Characteristically bold, spicy and complex flavours dominate Peranakan food.
Peranakan dishes use generous amounts of Asian ingredients. You might be familiar with tamarind, laksa leaves, and coconut milk, to name a few widely popular ones. And spice pastes made with chillies, lemongrass, turmeric and galangal, are common.
If you’re just starting to discover the plethora of all that is Peranakan cuisine, I highly recommend this article by Michelin Guide Singapore on must-try Peranakan signature dishes.
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!
About assam pork curry
I’m a huge fan of curries and I’ve probably said so a hundred times, I know! This assam pork curry and other curries are dishes I cook often at home.
But in particular, assam pork curry scores a lot of points with me for a couple of reasons. Mainly:
- Time-saving! Nothing needs to be pounded or blended. Just a peel-and-slice job on the shallots and lemon grass is about all the cutting you need to do.
- Can be cooked in a slow cooker or instant pot! Once the meat and spice mixture comes together in a wok or skillet, you can transfer to a slow cooker to allow it to stew till tender. Or cook directly in an instant pot, saving yourself an extra step.
- Easily sourced ingredients. All the fresh ingredients are available easily in Asia. Outside of Asia, you’re likely to get all these, fresh or frozen, at a well-stocked Asian grocer or supermarket. Also, for convenience sake, I use ready made chilli paste, curry powder, and coconut milk. Anything to make my life easier!
- Always turns out great! The best recipe is always one that turns out great every time! This is a tried and tested favourite and my readers have said as much about it.
- Perfect make-ahead meal. This assam pork curry is the perfect choice for preparing your meals ahead of time. In fact, it will taste even more delicious and exquisite the longer it sits.
Ingredients for assam pork curry
How to prepare the ingredients
Here are the ingredients you need and how to use them:
- Pork meat. Best cuts for assam pork curry are pork belly, pork shoulder, and pork tenderloin. The most fatty or marbled cuts will give the most tender texture and flavour, so go with your preference. Cutting into smaller, bite-sized chunks will reduce cooking time.
- Shallots. I use small, purple-skin Asian variety of shallots commonly available here. If using larger brown-skin shallots, halve the quantity.
- Lemon grass. The tougher, greener outer layers of the lemon grass should be discarded. Peel away until you get to the first light-coloured layer. Use only the bottom 10-cm/3-inch section of the stalk. Bruise lightly with the back of a knife or pestle to release the aroma.
- Curry leaves. Whole sprigs or curry leaves can be used. If you don’t want curry leaves scattered throughout the dish, using whole sprigs. These will be easier to remove at the end of cooking.
- Tamarind pulp. Mix the pulp in water according to the recipe. Rub the pulp in the water with your fingers, until the seeds come loose and clean. Strain through a sieve to get the tamarind juices. Discard everything else.
- Tamarind slices. These add a concentrated sourish flavour to the sauce, so it is used sparingly. If you can’t get these, you can use more tamarind pulp or paste.
- Chilli paste. This is the unflavoured variety of chilli paste, usually a blend of red chillies, salt and water. I use ready-made.
- Coconut milk. Canned, boxed or frozen will do, but just be aware that coconut milk will vary in flavour and consistency across brands, so you may need to adjust the quantity.
How to cook in a slow cooker
The recipe here is for cooking on the stove, but you can just easily use a slow cooker. It’s worry-free, and easier to manage. You won’t need to watch the pot and monitor the braising liquid like you would cooking on the stove.
Cooking with a slow cooker
The recipe starts out the same as cooking on the stove in a wok or pot. Once the liquids (tamarind juices, coconut milk, water) and seasonings have been added and brought to a boil, turn off the heat.
Then, carefully scoop everything out of the wok or pot into a slow cooker. Put the slow cooker heat setting on ‘Auto’. Let it stew for 1 1/2 hours or longer, depending on the cut of pork used.
Once the meat is tender, switch off the slow cooker. Transfer to a pot and let the curry simmer on a stove top, to reduce the curry to a thicker consistency. Finally, taste and adjust your seasonings. If too sourish, add more sugar, and salt if not quite salty enough.
Make this your next meal!
Assam pork curry is delicious right after it’s cooked, but even more exquisite the day after when the flavours have had time to meld together. Enjoy this, spooned generously with curry gravy over steamed jasmine rice.
Planning your weekly meals? Here are more suggestions for you:
- Devil Curry – A Taste of Eurasian Delights
- Pork Belly in Soy Sauce (Tau Yu Bak/ Lou Bak)
- Pork in Tamarind Sauce (Babi Assam)
- Beef Rendang (Beef Curry)
- Fish Head Curry – Easy, Delicious, Make-from-Scratch Recipe
Tried this recipe? I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.
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- 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 ½ 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. Rub 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 back of a knife or 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.
- Add lemon grass, chilli paste, curry powder, curry leaves and tamarind slices.
- Stir 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 and continue to stir fry, so that the meat is well coated with the spices. Fry for about 5 minutes.
- Add the tamarind juices, water and coconut milk. Stir to mix well and bring mixture to a gentle boil.
- Add seasonings and reduce heat to allow for gentle simmering. Continue to simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender, and gravy is of your desired consistency (please read Recipe Notes below.)
- 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 curry leaves at the end of cooking, simply add whole sprigs (with leaves attached) into the pot and remove them at the end of cooking.
- 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 spicy 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.
- You can use pork belly or pork shoulder in place of lean pork. Please 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.
- 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. Keep it chilled in the refrigerator until required. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat when required.