A grilled Vietnamese sausage (Nem Nuong) with sweet, garlicky and smoky flavours that can be eaten as is, as a snack, or added to noodle dishes and those addictive Vietnamese rice rolls.
If you have never heard of Nem Nuong, it is a super flavorful and garlicky Vietnamese sausage with a hint of sweetness to it. Its texture has a bit of a springy chewy texture to it and is usually served as an appetizer but as with most Asian cuisines it’s not just limited to that. It can be used in stir fries, fried rice, rice noodle bowls (bun cha), salads and the famous Vietnamese rice spring rolls.
You can find most of these ingredients at your local supermarket with the exception of toasted rice powder, fish sauce, rice wine and annatto seeds which you can find at an Asian grocery store.
If you can’t find the toasted rice powder, you can actually make this yourself with a few tablespoons of jasmine rice or sticky rice. Dry toast it in a frying pan until they are golden brown, and blitz it or crush it with a pestle and mortar and you have toasted rice powder! 🙂
For the rice wine, you can substitute it with dry sherry if it is difficult to find.
Annatto seeds are completely optional. It is only used to give the meat a different colour and does not affect the flavour of the dish.
Where’s The Baking Soda?
I opted not to use baking soda for this dish, because I didn’t see how adding it would add any benefits to the sausage. Historically it has been used to tenderize the meat but I find that over working the meat by mixing and over kneading with the fish sauce (salt) in it gives it the exact same texture.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Colour Without the Artificial Food Dyes
When it comes to color in foods, I prefer not to use artificial coloring partially because it doesn’t really add any flavour to the food. It just adds a ‘signature’ color. However, if you ever had Nem Nuong you’ll know they are always a pink in hue and most of the time it’s what I use to identify it as well. Plain cooked pork however is more of a light beigey brown in color, so how do you get that color a little more naturally? I like to use annatto seeds. It’s quite common in Vietnamese cooking (I use it to color the oil in my Bun Bo Hue recipe) and it gives a hint of nuttiness as well.
How to Get That Springy Chewiness
Salt and a lot of mixing (or kneading) will give you that springy texture in meat. It’s important to put the salt (or in this case fish sauce) into the meat before you start the mixing process, since it is the salt that breaks down the proteins and makes the meat more gluey the more you knead it.
I personally find it easiest and less messy to just knead the meat in a ziploc bag. Firmly hitting it against a counter top or cutting board also helps remove air bubbles in the meat as well which will give you a firmer sausage (just make sure it is a reliable and well sealed bag). I usually sit in front of the TV and knead it for about 15-25 minutes occasionally whacking it against a counter top 🙂
If you have a stand mixer or hand mixer and you don’t mind the mess then I highly recommend using that to mix the meat for 15 minutes instead to save you some time and arm muscle.
How To Skewer Them So They Don’t Fall Off
I like to start off with a 1 tablespoon to 1 1/2 tablespoon of meat and create a ball with it. Then I skewer it onto the stick and squeeze it for the oval shape. You can keep them as round meatballs if you like. (You can even go skewer-less! 🙂 )
To keep the meat as securely on as possible, I noticed that you should have a good seal on the meat against the stick. Any type of hole or gap between the meat and the skewer will weaken the integrity of how well it can stay on the stick.
To create a good seal, I take my fingers and pinch the tops and bottoms of the meat and twist my finger slightly. Then I push gently push the ends just slightly towards the meatball so the meat is snug.
If you’re curious about additional tips and hacks to secure ground meats on skewers, refer to my “How To Skewer Ground Meat (So That It Stays On The Sticks)” post to see all the additional methods I use.
How to Serve or Eat Them
There’s no right or wrong way to eat these but here are a few ways you can serve or eat them:
- Eat them straight up, dipped in Nuoc Cham (fish sauce vinaigrette) – this is my preferred method when I’m feeling lazy bones
- Wrap them with greens, vermicelli noodles and rice paper dipped in Nuoc Cham – this is my method for when I’m feeling a bit more fancy or I need to get some greens in my diet. This is also a fun interactive way to serve this for when you have guests.
- Chop up the leftover Nem Nuong and make fried rice with it…or fried noodles…or stir fry it. You get the idea.
Grilled Vietnamese Pork Sausages (Nem Nuong)
Garlicky Bacon Fat
- 3 slices bacon
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot (or small onion)
Annatto Oil (Optional for Colour)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon annatto seeds (optional)
Making the Garlicky Bacon Fat
- In a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots and bacon and blitz until a paste forms (I found it easier to chop everything up into smaller pieces first). If you don't have a food processor, you can chop this by hand, but it must be chopped very finely into almost a paste.
- Set aside for later
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are not making the annatto oil, you will still need the oil from the ingredient list. Just add it directly to the pork on the next step in the 'Mixing the Nem Nuong'
Making the Annatto Oil (Optional for Color)
- In a frying pan, set the heat to low and add the oil and annatto seeds in it. Let it toast until the colour from the seeds bleed out onto the oil (approximately 1-2 minutes)
- You will know it's done when the oil is a nice dark orange hue. Turn off the heat and set to cool for later.
Mixing the Nem Nuong
- In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients in the Nem Nuong Ingredient list and mix well by hand until everything is well combined.
- Add in the 'Garlicky Bacon Fat' mix you created earlier and continue to mix well by hand.
- In a large ziploc bag, add everything from the bowl, and the annatto oil (or use plain oil if you didn't make annatto oil) and remove as much air as you can from the bag and seal it well
- Knead the bag for approximately 15 minutes, occasionally whacking the bag against a counter top or cutting board firmly to remove air bubbles. (Make sure the bag is reliable and well sealed before doing this.)
- Remove a little piece of meat and pan fry it to do a taste test to see if it is salty enough (or sweet enough) to your preference. Not all fish sauces are created equal and some are saltier than others. Adjust the seasonings by adding more honey or more fish sauce to your liking.
- Once you are done, put the meat in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour to cool.
- Soak the skewers in a tall cup glass of water and set aside
Skewering the Ground Meat
- Once the meat is cold, remove it from the fridge and setup your skewering station and lightly oil your hands. If your hands are very hot or warm, run your wrist under cold water to cool them down a bit
- Take about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of meat and roll it into a ball and skewer it. Gently squeeze your hand around the ball to form a oval shape (or you can keep it as a round meatball as well)
- If there is an opening or hole on the openings of the meat, seal it well by pinching the openings and gently twisting your finger and then sliding it slightly towards the meatball. (See blog post for photos)
- Continue to do this until all the meat is used up.
Grilling & Serving It
- Set your BBQ or charcoal grill to approximately 450F (232C) - 500F (260C) degrees. Once the grill is hot, add the skewers on and close the lid.
- Cook the skewers for about 3-4 minutes until the meat becomes firm. Give it a gentle poke to see if it is still mushy. If it still mushy it will be very difficult to flip it. Wait until it is firm before trying to flip it.
- Once the meatballs are firm and cooked, you no longer need to use the lid anymore and can grill it over the open fire to start browning it by flipping it every 1-2 minutes for approximately 10-12 minutes.
- You will know the meat is done when it is very firm and browned evenly.
- Serve it over some vermicelli noodles, use it in Vietnamese rice spring rolls or eat them as is with Nuoc Cham sauce! 🙂
- To save you some time, you can also make this as meatballs without skewers
- If you don't have a grill or charcoal smoker, you can also cook this in a frying pan as well but you will miss out on the smoky flavor.
- Mix the annatto oil last with a utensil so that you don't die your hands
- For more tips and tricks regarding skewering, refer to my page "How to Skewer Ground Meat (So That It Stays On the Sticks)"
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