Khao kaa moo, literally ‘pork leg rice,’ is one of the most popular lunch dishes in Thailand. A slow, warm braise dish, it uses various parts of a pig from trotters to leg. The pork on the bone is simmered in mild Chinese five spice broth and served with rice and various accompaniments.
It’s an all-in-one type of dish – a bit of pork, a bit of rice and a bit of veggies. You will find it on most street corners along with khao mun gai (chicken rice, the Thai take on the famous Hainanese chicken rice) and khao moo dang (Chinese style roast pork rice) and various other cousins that have their origins in the Chinese cuisines.
Admittedly, khao ka moo was never a personal favourite of mine. I spent a good few years living with my aunt who was one of those street food vendors who owned quite a few carts within the area. Naturally, I gave them all a go (hers and her competitors’) I have always found it too fatty and bland but now my more mature palate is able to appreciate the subtlety of the Chinese five spice powder and the fattiness of the pork shank. I decided I should try making this dish at home.
This dish has its origin in the Chinese five spice pork shank stew. The Thai version is slightly milder with less spices. It is normally accompanied by blanched Chinese broccoli (kanaa in Thai) or pickled mustard greens that has been stewed with the pork shank. Pig’s trotters are also used and seem to be a favourite and command higher price on the street. I omitted this because I simply don’t like them but have made them quite successfully for a party before. Other accompaniments include soft-boiled eggs where the yolks are bright and runny and a fiercy chilli, garlic and vinegar sauce. Some stalls serve this with raw cloves of garlic and bird’s eye chilli for the daring who chew on them when eating this dish.
I made this in the pressure cooker due to lack of patience and organisation skills to plan ahead (I know. It’s a fault I’m trying to correct) but I also find that it’s nicer to let it simmer for a while at the end as well. I have also added tofu puffs but other choices such as dried Chinese (shiitaki) mushrooms and firm cubes of tofu are also popular.
Braised Pork Knuckle
Clean the knuckle well. Blanch with boiling water and scrape with sharp knife to remove any remaining hair (or is it fur? Do pigs have fur?) Grill the knuckle on all sides on browned and slightly smokey using either the grill or a grill pan. This is just to brown the outside rather than to actually cook the meat. This should take a few minutes. This step isn’t really strictly necessary but I enjoy the subtle smokiness in the broth. Alternatively, you can use a blow torch or hold it over your gas stove as they do in Thailand.
- 3 fresh coriander roots (or 10 long stems, leaves removed and 1/2 tsp ground coriander), sliced finely
- 3 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp white pepper corn (substitute with black if unavailable)
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tablet palm sugar (approx. 2-3 tbsp)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
Pound the tablet of palm sugar into fine powder. Set aside. Clean the coriander roots well to remove any dirt. Pound the pepper corn, coriander roots, garlic and salt together into a fine paste. In a pressure cooker, or a pot, heat oil until warm. Fry off the herb paste on low heat until fragrant, about a few minutes, add the palm sugar, turn the heat up to medium and stir vigorously until all the sugar is melted. Keep stirring until the sugar begins to caramelise and starts to turn brown.
- 2 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 2 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1.5 litres chicken or pork stock (or water and stock cube)
Add the five-spice power, star anise and cinnamon to the caramel mixture and stir until well mixed. Add the prepared pork knuckle and turn over to coat the caramel mixture on the knuckle. Add the stock and season with soy sauce and dark soy sauce. If you are using the pressure cooker, leave to cook under pressure cooker for about 30 minutes or if you are using a normal pot, bring to boil and then simmer on low heat for 2 hours.