Juicy, tender slices of smoky grilled pork tossed together with fresh herbs, toasted rice powder and a spicy, zesty fish sauce dressing, Moo Nam Tok is a quintessential Thai salad recipe you need to make.
- Why You’ll Love Our Thai Grilled Pork Salad
- What is Moo Nam Tok?
- What Cut of Meat to Use for Thai Grilled Pork?
- What Is Toasted Rice Powder (Khao Khua)?
- Recipe Overview
- Variations and Substitutions
- How to Make This Salad Perfectly (Expert Tips)
- Great Mains for This Salad
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You’ll Love Our Thai Grilled Pork Salad
Thai salads is one of my favourite dishes to order when eating out.
They are everything I love about Thai food – spicy, zesty, umami, and so refreshing. With the multiple layers of textures and complex flavours, you can never get bored of them.
This grilled pork salad, moo nam tok, truly represents a quintessential Thai salad.
Smoky charred grilled pork slices combined with fresh herbs like mint and cilantro and mingled with a spicy, tangy fish sauce lime dressing is a perfect combination of flavours. And served with toasted rice powder scattered throughout, the finish is complex and sensational.
Grilled pork neck is a dish I make often, and when thrown together in this Moo Nam Tok salad recipe, it completely changes into a flavourful, refreshing and satisfying meal.
The heat, the herbs, the nutty grounded rice powder – everything about it screams YUM.
What is Moo Nam Tok?
Nam tok in Thai literally means waterfall, but in this recipe, it means dripping juice from the meat while cooking. Sometimes you will see this Thai salad recipe labelled waterfall salad.
Nam tok is traditionally a grilled meat salad, most frequently made with beef, pork like our Moo Nam Tok, and sometimes with chicken.
This grilled pork salad recipe is based on the Isan style of cooking in Thailand. Isan cuisine originates from the eastern region of Thailand, where the dishes are more similar to Laos cooking and Khmer food from Cambodia. There are more grilled meats, spicy salads and clear broths in the mix.
Traditionally moo nam tok is served with sticky rice but can also be enjoyed with steamed white rice or eaten by itself.
What Cut of Meat to Use for Thai Grilled Pork?
For grilled pork, I like to use pork neck because of its lovely balance of lean meat and juicy, fatty texture.
Having a little fat throughout the meat will be better on the grill. The heat will render the fat creating a smoky, charred outside and a soft juicy inside. When the meat is too lean, it can dry after it is cooked.
If you can’t find pork neck, you can use other cuts of pork such as pork jowl, pork scotch steaks or even smaller pieces of pork shoulder. Choose pieces that have some fat throughout.
What Is Toasted Rice Powder (Khao Khua)?
Do you often sit there having Thai food and wonder, what is this interesting texture with smoky, nutty flavours scattered throughout the dish?
You might be surprised to find out that it is toasted rice powder.
Khao khua, a popular Thai ingredient, is made by gently toasting dry, raw sticky rice (glutinous rice) in a dry pan and grinding it into a coarse powder.
You will find toasted rice powder in many Thai and Lao dishes, including the classic larb as well in dipping sauces like nam jim or soups. Khao khua helps bind ingredients together, adding texture and acting as a thickener in soups or sauces.
I believe you can purchase pre-made Thai toasted rice powder at Asian grocery stores, but it is also very simple to make it at home. Plus, the aroma of toasting glutinous rice is amazing.
Toasted rice powder together with the juicy grilled pork neck is so delicious in this Asian salad recipe. I adore the added texture and extra nutty flavours.
Flavour/Texture: Juicy charred grilled pork with fresh herbs and a spicy, tangy fish sauce dressing definitely heightens the senses. The zesty lime juice in the fish sauce dressing helps cut through the richness of grilled pork, just like our pomelo salad with roast duck.
Plus the ground toasted rice powder sprinkled throughout just adds that extra depth and that toasty, nutty flavour.
Ease: The steps to making this grilled pork salad is fairly straightforward. You just need to take the time to make the toasted glutinous rice powder and grill the pork to perfection.
Time: This Thai salad recipe will take a little more time to prepare as we need to marinate and grill the pork for approximately 1 hour.
These are the main ingredients you need for moo nam tok:
Pork: Select pieces of pork neck that are not too thick otherwise they will take a bit longer to grill. If too thick, slice the meat in half lengthwise to speed up the process.
Glutinous rice: When cooked, glutinous rice becomes sticky and is less fluffy than standard jasmine rice. Hence it is also known as sticky rice. It is an essential ingredient in Thai cuisine and is found in many dessert recipes. You can find small bags of glutinous rice in Asian grocery stores.
Cilantro: We are using both the cilantro leaves in the salad and the roots for the pork marinade. Cilantro roots are more pungent in flavour compared to leaves, so they are great to add to sauces and marinades. Always wash the roots well before finely chopping.
Mint: Popular herb used in Asian salads, mint adds freshness and vibrant green colour.
Red onion: You can use shallots or red onion in this recipe for extra spiciness and texture.
Fish sauce: A pantry staple for Thai cooking, we use fish sauce in the marinade and dressing. Look for a good quality fish sauce, especially for your salad dressing.
Brown sugar: You can use brown sugar or palm sugar in this recipe to help balance the dressing and marinade, depending on what you have in the pantry.
Chilli: Go as spicy as you want! We use dried chilli flakes instead of fresh chillies like in our Pak Choy salad recipe. The heat of dried chilli flakes will gently infuse in the fish sauce dressing.
Lime: Lime has a zestier flavour compared to lemons therefore fish sauce dressing goes well with lime.
Variations and Substitutions
Pork neck substitute: If you can’t find pork neck, try other cuts of pork, such as pork jowl, pork scotch steaks or pork shoulder. If you use pork belly, I would thinly slice first and grill pork belly slices instead of a whole piece.
Alternative for glutinous rice: Jasmine rice can be used in place of glutinous rice if unavailable.
Toasted rice powder substitute: You can look for premade toasted rice powder at Asian greengrocer or substitute it with crushed roasted peanuts.
Substitute for cilantro: If you don’t like cilantro, you can omit it from salad or switch it with Thai basil.
Spice level: This fish sauce salad dressing is typically quite spicy. If you prefer more or less spicy, adjust the amount of chilli flakes used in the dressing.
Step by step instructions for how to make moo nam Tok:
How to Grill Pork
Let’s start with the marinade for pork neck.
Combine fish sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and chopped cilantro roots in a small mixing bowl.
Mix until brown sugar is dissolved.
Add the marinade mixture to pork neck and let it sit for at least 10 minutes.
Preheat grill pan or BBQ to high heat.
Grill pork neck for 15-20 minutes until cooked through and nicely charred. Flip pork neck halfway through cooking to char both sides of meat.
You can also cook the pork neck in the oven if you don’t want to stand by the grill.
Preheat oven to 200°C or 400°F. Place the pork on a grilling rack and cook for approximately 45 minutes, turning the other side up halfway through.
Let the grilled pork neck rest before slicing into thin slices.
How to Make The Salad
On a dry pan over medium heat, toast raw glutinous rice until golden brown.
Stir constantly to avoid the rice getting burnt.
Remove toasted glutinous rice from pan and use a mortar and pestle to grind the rice into a fine uneven powder.
Thinly slice red onion into half moons.
Wash and roughly chop mint and cilantro leaves.
Chop scallions into small rounds.
How to Make Thai Fish Sauce Dressing
Combine fish sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl. Mix until brown sugar is dissolved.
Add chilli flakes and lime juice to mixture and stir.
Adjust flavours according to taste.
How to Assemble the Salad
In a large mixing bowl, add sliced grilled pork, toasted rice powder, red onions and salad dressing. Mix together.
Then add coriander, mint leaves and spring onions and lightly toss with other ingredients.
Transfer to a large platter and serve.
How to Make This Salad Perfectly (Expert Tips)
Choosing the right cut of pork: As the name of this salad suggests, “dripping juice from the meat”, it is important not to have a cut of pork that is too dry after grilling. Lean pork fillets just won’t cut it.
Try to find pork neck or another cut with some fat throughout. The juicy, tender grilled pork slices are central to this simple Thai salad.
Getting the right balance for salad dressing: Making fish sauce-based salad dressings comes second nature to me as I have been making Vietnamese nuoc cham dipping sauce for as long as I can remember.
However, even with a recipe in hand, I sometimes find fish sauce dressings more challenging to balance and get the perfect combination of tangy, savoury flavours.
It could be due to the different brands of fish sauce (I use Three Crabs Brand), the type of sugar you are using or the lime/lemon needing to be sourer.
It is important to taste the flavours of the fish sauce dressing and adjust accordingly.
Don’t burn the rice: For the toasted rice powder, you want a deep golden brown colour but you don’t want the rice to turn black and burn. It is a fine line! Keep stirring the rice in the pan and remove from heat if any grains start to burn.
Great Mains for This Salad
What to serve with Thai grilled pork salad? Try these delicious main dish recipes:
Sticking to a Thai theme, these Thai recipes would make for great partners with our That grilled pork salad. If you are anything like me, I can eat rice with anything so the crab fried rice is right up my alley!
Frequently Asked Questions
You could easily prepare all the ingredients in advance including the grilled pork but I would assemble when ready to serve.
Yes you can use a spice grinder to ground the toasted glutinous rice. It will most likely produce a finer rice powder. I prefer the mortar and pestle for a rustic texture.
Toasted rice powder will last a while in the pantry. Store in an airtight container, and it will be ready to use for another grilled pork salad.
I am more than happy to have a big plate of Thai grilled pork salad as a main, but of course great to share with friends with other salads like our Thai prawn salad recipe or Papaya salad with baby cuttlefish.
And if you don’t feel like a salad, you can also just have the grilled pork neck by itself. Serve it with our tamarind nam jim as a dipping sauce and everyone will be asking for more.
More Salads with Meat
Thai Grilled Pork Salad (Moo Nam Tok Recipe)
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- Combine fish sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and cilantro (coriander) roots in a small mixing bowl. Mix until brown sugar is dissolved.
- Add marinade mixture to pork neck and let it sit for at least 10 minutes
- Preheat grill or BBQ to high heat. You can also cook the pork neck in the oven at 200°C or 400°F.
- Grill pork neck for 25-30 minutes until cooked through and slightly charred. If you are using the oven, this might take up to 45 minutes. Flip to the other side halfway through.
- Let the grilled pork neck rest before slicing into thin slices.
- On a dry pan, toast raw glutinous rice until golden brown.
- Remove toasted glutinous rice from pan and use a mortar and pestle to grind the rice into a fine uneven powder.
- Thinly slice red onion into half moons.
- Wash and roughly chop mint and cilantro (coriander) leaves.
- Chop scallions (spring onion) into small rounds.
- Combine fish sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl.
- Mix until brown sugar is dissolved.
- Add chilli flakes and lime juice to mixture. Adjust flavours according to taste.
- In a large mixing bowl, add sliced pork, ground rice, red onions and salad dressing. Mix.
- Then add cilantro (coriander), mint and scallion (spring onions) and lightly toss together.
- Transfer to large platter and serve.
- If you can’t find pork neck, try other cuts of pork, such as pork jowl, pork scotch steaks or pork shoulder. If you use pork belly, I would thinly slice first and grill pork belly slices instead of a whole piece.
- Use jasmine rice instead of glutinous rice if unavailable.
- If you don’t feel like making toasted rice powder, premade toasted rice powder is available at Asian greengrocers or substitute with crushed roasted peanuts.
- If you don’t like cilantro, you can omit it from salad or switch it with Thai basil.
- This fish sauce salad dressing is typically quite spicy. If you prefer more or less spicy, adjust the amount of chilli flakes used in the dressing.
- It is important to taste the flavours of the fish sauce dressing and adjust accordingly. Depending on which brand of fish sauce you use, the final taste can vary.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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