Stir-Fried Pork with Beans and Green Peppercorns

April 10, 2012
By Holly Jennings

David Thompson, author of Thai Food, the most recent DCCC cookbook pick, describes this pungent stir-fry as a “spicy, dry, yet oily curry.” It is all of those things, with a heat level that warms you from the inside out, from top of your head to the ends of your toes, with a double porky goodness that only cooking in lard can provide. Yes, lard. According to Thompson, in the north of Thailand, curries are fried in rendered pork fat rather than in coconut cream, as is typical in the south. The result is a wonderfully rich dish: The lard envelopes everything in a silken texture, leaving a pleasant slick of opulence on the tongue. The counterpoint to this are the brined green peppercorns; when you get one in a bite of stir-fry, be sure to crunch down on it to release a refreshing tang of subtle peppery, briny flavor.

If you can think of the quantity of lard used in this dish as a northern Thai equivalent for the richness—in flavor and texture—of the more familiar coconut cream, rather than a mind-blowing amount of fat, you’ll be in the right state of mind to embark on the adventure of making and eating this stir-fry. Do not, however, use store-bought lard. Make your own using pork fat—there are several recipes online and in books for rendering pork fat—or tuck this recipe into your “to try” file and check back here in a few weeks. The next cookbook the club is embarking on is called Fat, and there will be lots of pork rendering (and pork fat rendering method sharing) going on at Dowdy Corners then.

Adapted from recipe in Thai Food by David Thompson

Serves 4

9 dried long red chiles, soaked in hot water until softened (about 25 minutes) (see Notes)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon peeled and chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass (see Notes)
1½ tablespoons chopped shallot
1½ tablespoons chopped garlic
1½ teaspoons chopped cilantro stems
⅛ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp or prawn (smoked or unsmoked)


10 tablespoons rendered pork fat (lard)
¾ pound pork loin, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
Vegetable stock or water, for moistening stir-fry
4 tablespoons fish sauce
⅛ teaspoon white sugar
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and blanched
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
8 to 10 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 heaping tablespoon green peppercorns in brine, rinsed and drained
1 large handful fresh Thai basil leaves
Cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Make the paste: Remove the stems from the softened chiles. Working under running water, remove the seeds and inner membranes, then roughly chop. Grind the ingredients to a paste in one of two ways, the fast modern way, or the slow traditional way:

1) Place the deseeded chiles and the rest of the paste ingredients in a blender jar and process until smooth, adding as little water as necessary to facilitate blending. Place the paste in a fine-mesh sieve and press against the paste to release as much liquid as possible—press until you don’t think another drop of liquid can be extruded, and then press again.


2) Place the deseeded chiles and the rest of the paste ingredients in a mortar and pound away at them with a pestle until smooth.

Fry the paste: Heat the rendered pork fat in a heavy work or large sauté pan over medium heat and add the paste. Fry until fragrant and dry, and the fat is beginning to separate from the paste around the edges, about 8 minutes.

Make the stir-fry: Add the meat to the fried curry paste and simmer until cooked, 5 to 10 minutes, over medium heat. The curry should be dry, not saucy; if it becomes too dry, moisten with a little vegetable stock or water. (If you ground the paste with water in a blender jar, you probably won’t need to add extra liquid.) Combine the fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add this to the curry to season it. Add the green beans, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and peppercorns, and cook until the beans are just tender, stirring occasionally. Toss in the Thai basil leaves, stir, and cook a few seconds longer, just to wilt the leaves. (Though pretty, the leaves should not be raw and bright green, as shown in the photo above.) Serve with jasmine rice.

This quantity of chiles will make a very spicy curry. If you like just a touch of heat, cut the quantity in half.

To prepare lemongrass, trim the root end of the stalk and cut off the top third or so (the green, woody part), leaving 4 to 6 inches at the bottom. Remove the tough outer sheaths of the stalk and discard. Cut the stalk crosswise into thin rings, then chop.

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