On many occasions, when strolling through street food markets in Thailand, you come across a very fragrant and spicy smell with hints of cinnamon and anise. It is so pleasant that it makes you want to stop and try immediately. This pleasant smell comes from a dish called Kao Ka Moo, and it is a kind of pork leg stew – a classic Thai street food and local favorite. And now of course, one of mine.
Here’s my interpretation of the recipe and how I did it. Let me know in the comments section which version you like most!
Ingredients for Kao Ka Moo:
One pork leg (pork shank) – around 3 lbs.
One pork foot (if available)
Butterfat or ghee – around 1 Tbsp.
Palm sugar – around 50 grams
White peppercorn – around 1 Tbsp.
Sichuan peppercorn – around 1 Tbsp.
Cilantro stems and roots – around 2 Tbsp.
Star Anise – around 2 pieces
Cinnamon – around 2 pieces
Soy sauce – around 4 Tbsp.
Oyster sauce – around 4 Tbsp.
Dark soy sauce (not sweet soy sauce) – around 1 Tbsp. (mainly for color)
Dry shiitake mushrooms – 2 pieces
Eggs – about 6 pieces, cooked medium-well and peeled
Fermented Mustard Greens (Park Gard Dong) – Two cans
Steamed Thai Rice
Preparation of the pork stew:
Kao Ka Moo takes about 3-4 hours to complete. I found more time to be very beneficial to the softness and texture of the meat and fat, so I recommend giving it some extra time if possible. In general, stews are easy to prepare but extra attention has to be given on the softness of the meat in the end, as well as to the volume of the sauce.
In a large enough casserole, heat the Butterfat or Ghee and brown the meat on all sides. Cover the pieces with water and let it come to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Gradually remove the foam that forms on top (these are coagulated proteins) as well as any excess rendered fat. After this step, you can add the palm sugar, spices, cilantro roots, the sauces and the mushrooms. Adjust the desired color of the sauce with the dark soy sauce. Cover and simmer Kao Ka Moo softly for about 3 to 3.5 hours.
After the meat is done, remove the lid and add the cooked and peeled eggs, as well as the rinsed mustard greens. These need to simmer for another 30 minutes in the gravy to soak up the flavor. You can already remove the meat to make space for the eggs. When eggs are done, remove them together with the mustard greens. Now I add another step of thickening the sauce, which I do primarily to concentrate the flavor and make it more enticing. Bring the sauce to an intensive boil and let it reduce to about 50-60% of its initial volume. Then, add the meat and eggs again for a few minutes to heat it up.
Now the meat is ready for carving. On a plate, put some rice and add chunks of sliced pork meat (including meat, fat and skin). On the sides, put a halved egg as well as some mustard greens. Pour some sauce generously over the dish. Voilá!
Here is Pailin’s video for a very vivid description of the cooking process of Kao Ka Moo (but not including all my steps):