Lacto-Fermenting Meat and Fish: A Staple in Cambodian Cuisine
Fermented pork belly (pa’awk sach chrouk), or any type of fermented meat is not something I just recently got into, it is a staple in the Cambodian diet. Not only do we make and eat a variety of cured meats and fermented vegetables, we use fermented fish (prahok) in a lot of our everyday cooking. I grew up on fermented pork, fish and all sorts of vegetables, even watermelon rinds. I didn’t always love it as a child, and I didn’t help my mom prepare them either. I just watched her multitasked; preparing the fermentation while lamenting over my tepid interest in cooking.
But over the years, I’ve grown to love fermentations and other forms of naturally preserved foods, cured, dried or smoked. Fermenting meat may seem advanced or foreign to those inexperienced, but after a few tries, they’re not nearly as difficult as they first seem.
The hunter-gatherer may have originally discovered curing meat on accident out of necessity to preserve the excess meat from large animal killings, however, I would imagine they’re as surprised as I was to find that in addition to the natural preservative nature of fermented food, the process also accentuated the flavors and depth of complexity hidden in the raw meat. With just one simple ingredient, salt, this method turned simple food into something truly special.
Ingredients Required to Make Cambodian Fermented Pork
Pa’awk Sach Chrouk is fermented pork, usually pork belly, preserved with salt, galangal, and ground roasted rice. The meat is rubbed with coarse salt, placed into a container, set aside for 3 days before rubbing it with galangal, ground roasted rice and other optional ingredients before leaving it to ferment. The fermentation process encouraged by the nitrates in salt enables the growth of friendly lactic acid bacteria, lactobacilli and yeasts, creating the sourness while enhancing the flavour of the pork. Acting as an inhibitor, the salt prevents the meat from spoiling, allowing the lactic acid bacteria and yeasts to feed on the rice and sugar.
Pa’awk Sach Chrouk is usually fried and eaten with fresh vegetables and peppers. The fresh veggies in combination with hot peppers give the dish a sweet heat that harmonizes well with the sourness of the fermented pork.
How to Make Cambodian Fermented Pork, Pa’awk Sach Chrouk
Cambodian Fermented Pork, Pa'awk Sach Chrouk
- 2 lbs pork belly
- 2 1/2 tbsp coarse salt
- 2 tbsp galangal, minced
- 1/4 cups roasted jasmine rice, grounded
- Slice two pounds of pork belly into strips. They should be at least 1/2 inch thick, so don't slice them too thinly. Place them into a large bowl.
- Add 1/2 of the coarse salt and thoroughly mix it into the pork making sure the salt covers every portion of the pork belly. Really rub the salt into the meat. Add the remaining salt and continue to mix it by hand, squeezing the salt and pork together to make sure it is well mixed.
- Place the salted pork belly into a container with lid and allow it to ferment for 3 - 5 days.
- Three days later, remove the pork belly and place it into a large bowl. Discard any leftover liquids in the container.
- Prepare the rest of the ingredients:Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat. As the pan is heating, add jasmine rice and cook, stirring constantly until it becomes a very dark golden brown. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Cut galangal into slices, and toss them into a grinder. They don't have to be too finely minced.
- Prepare some sterilized jars or bottles: Over high heat, bring water to a rolling boil and boil the amount of jars or bottles you think you will need for 10 minutes. Allow them to cool before using.
- Add the rest of the ingredients (prepared above) to the pork belly and mix well.
- Layer the pork belly flat into the sterilized jars or bottle and place in a dark area for 20 - 30 days.
- How to eat Cambodian Fermented Pork BellyRemove the pork belly from the jar after 30 days and place it into a small bowl. Flavor the pork belly with sugar and msg if you use it, and fry it in a wok. Serve with hot peppers and fresh vegetables.