This is one of those delicious salads that relies on good ingredients; try Waitrose fresh Red Sea prawns and make sure you get pork belly with a good provenance. You could adapt this if you wanted by adding squid, chicken or a mixture. The lotus stems are smaller versions of lotus roots – it has a crunchy texture to it when sliced. You are likely to find it in Asian supermarkets, preserved in brine or alternatively you could use white radish.
If you can find the long Malaysian prawn crackers, all the better, or if not try to find the prawn crackers that have the highest percentage of prawn in them. If you can't find them don't worry, the salad is delicious on its own. Hieu also says that high-end restaurants in Vietnam sometimes add jellyfish which add a great crunchy texture to the dish; buy them ready-cooked from Asian stores.
A piece of pork belly weighing about 500g
8–12 prawns, preferably fresh and lightly cooked in salted water for about a minute then drained
100g lotus stems, rinsed
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into matchstick shapes
1/4 of a cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds scooped out and the flesh and skin cut into matchstick shapes
1 red chilli, very thinly sliced
A handful of herbs such as fragrant basil, coriander, mint, sawtooth coriander, Chinese parsley etc, washed and dried
Prawn crackers, preferably the long Malaysian ones, cooked
For the nuoc cham
2tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
Pre-heat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Score the skin of the pork belly with a very sharp knife in cm intervals and just through the rind. Lay the pork, skin side down in about 1cm of water in a tray or pan on the stove top and simmer for 2-3 minutes then remove and place in a roasting pan, skin side up. Season with sea salt and pepper and cook for about 2 hours, basting regularly, then turn the oven up to 220/gas mark 7 and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until the skin is crisp.
Peel the prawns and save the heads and shells for a soup or sauce. Cut them in half, lengthways, and put them to one side. Make the nuoc cham dressing by mixing all of the ingredients together. Hieu says that it really depends on the fish sauce; if it's good quality, he uses less sugar. I would suggest adding sugar to taste. Nuoc cham must taste not too sweet and not too fishy; the anchovy-like aroma must be undetectable.
To assemble the salad, remove the crispy rind from the pork and break into strips. Slice the meat thinly and toss with all of the other ingredients and arrange on plates with the crispy pork rind on top. You can pile the salad on to the crackers or serve the crackers alongside the salad.
To see Mark Hix's exclusive cookery videos, see http://www.independent.co.uk/hixcooksReuse content