Thai Soured Pork Ribs – Naem Si Krong Mu (แหนมซี่โครงหมู)



After I teased you with a preview of Naem in one of the recent posts, quite a few impatient emails have come in asking for a full post on this cured meat, one of the most delicious charcuterie products Southeast Asia has to offer. While the enthusiasm is encouraging, I strongly believe that if you’re someone who has never eaten naem (แหนม), let alone made it from scratch, it’s best that you take one baby step at a time. After all, we’re talking about fermented pork meat that is traditionally served raw; even those who grew up eating it rarely make it at home.

The type of naem most commonly found in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos is soured ground pork (sometimes with pork skin slivers added to it). However, at least in Thailand, another sub-category of naem is just as popular. Chief among the members of this sub-category is soured pork ribs (แหนมซี่โครงหมู).

And that is the baby step I’m urging you to take before plunging head first into making traditional naem from scratch which can be intimidating. Making soured pork ribs — as scary as it may seem to some of you — is very easy as you’ll soon see. Also, for what it’s worth, of all the variants in the naem category, pork rib naem is my number one favorite.

thai fermented soured pork

Rib tips with the cartilage in them are the best. Baby back rib singles are also good.

One thing that needs to be said about the making of naem is that when it comes to fermented, preserved food product, which is what this is, there’s little room for improvisation. That is to say, do not tinker with the recipe unless you know what you’re doing. Jam makers know very well that you can’t change the amounts of acid and sugar in a recipe (which alters the pH values of fruit preserves) without running a risk of food poisoning from canned products. And even though this recipe is cooked all the way through, which pretty much eliminates the risks of E. Coli and Salmonella, tweaking it is not advised.

[This method of fermentation has been used for ages in Southeast Asia. But it would be wise to keep in mind the possible risks. Read this before you proceed.]

Naem is made by creating an environment wherein fermentation of the fresh meat is made possible by lactic acid bacteria. The naturally occurring microbes use carbohydrates — cooked rice in this case — as energy source. Salt is also another essential ingredient which both adds flavor as well as inhibits bacterial growth. You should not leave out or haphazardly change the amount of either the rice or the salt.

The end result will be pork ribs that are both sour and salty which is exactly what we’re aiming for since soured pork ribs are supposed to be eaten with steamed rice or sticky rice. Think one bite of soured rib per, oh, 3-4 bites of rice or so.

A glass jar with a plastic lid is a perfect curing vessel; a large Ziploc bag is also a good option.

Other than the rice and salt issue and the please-please-please-don’t-tweak-the-recipe issue, the only things you need to keep in mind are as follows:

  • Make sure your pork ribs are blotted dry before the curing commences. Although naemis not dry-cured, excessive moisture is not exactly your friend in this kind of curing environment. Rinse the ribs and dry them as best as you can with an immaculately clean kitchen towel.
  • Make sure your hands and the curing vessel are clean. You don’t need to sterilize the glass jar (you can, if you want!), but commonsense dictates that it’s wise to work with a container that is very clean.
  • Minimize the chances of spoilage by eliminating as much air as possible from the curing container. If you use a glass jar, try your best to pack the pork tightly all the way to the top. If you use a Ziploc bag, get rid of all the air before sealing the bag.
  • I like my pork rib naem best after 3 full days of curing at room temperature. Some people prefer longer fermentation. I’d say anything between 3-5 days would be ideal. (For those who have a pH tester, shoot for 4.5-5.0.) This is based on the assumption that your kitchen is air-conditioned to about 70°-75°F. If it’s warmer where you are, the fermentation process becomes more rapid, and you may find that your naemis ready after only 48 hours.
  • At later stages of fermentation, you will see that the color of the pork has changed somewhat. Don’t let the greenish hue of the pork, garlic, or rice freak you out; it’s perfectly fine.
  • There’s no need to wipe or rinse off the rice-garlic paste when you’re about to cook the ribs. When deep-fried or baked, this paste forms a very delicious, crunchy crust that some of us adore.
  • As I’m writing this, I’m beginning to feel that perhaps I’m saying too much about what to watch out for and not nearly enough about how wonderful pork rib naemreally is.Without breaking into a love song for cured pork mid-post, let me just say that there is a reason why people would go through the trouble of fermenting meat for 3-5 days. And that simple reason is that this stuff is amazing.

thai soured pork recipe

5.0 from 1 reviews

Thai Soured Pork Ribs – Naem Si Krong Mu (แหนมซี่โครงหมู)
 
Author:
Recipe type: Meat, Entree, Main Dish
Cuisine: Thai
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds of rib tips or baby back ribs separated into singles
  • ½ cup cooked rice, packed
  • 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt or 1 tablespoon regular table salt
  • 10 large cloves of garlic, peeled
Instructions
  1. With a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic and the salt until you get a fine paste. Add the rice and pound until you get a fairly smooth paste. This step can be done in a small food processor.
  2. Rinse the ribs and dry them thoroughly with a cleankitchen towel.
  3. Mix the garlic-rice paste and the ribs together, making sure every piece is well coated.
  4. Transfer the ribs to either a very clean glass jar or a sealable plastic bag. Get rid of the air as much as you can, close the lid or seal the bag, and let the ribs cure at room temperature, undisturbed, for 3 days.
  5. After 3 days, check for sourness. That can be done by removing one piece of rib from the jar with a clean utensil, cooking it all the way through in a microwave oven, and tasting it to see whether you like the taste. If so, the curing can end at that point. If more sourness is desired, let the ribs continue to cure for up to 5 days.
  6. To cook the ribs, you can either deep-fry them or bake them in an 375°F oven on a cookie sheet until golden brown.
  7. Prepared soured pork ribs are best served with rice and fresh vegetables such as cucumber or sliced raw cabbage or lettuce.
Notes
You can use commercial naem powder mix which works very well and requires much less curing time. Feel free to use curing salt — the type that contains nitrite — if you feel safer that way. This post, however, is written for those who wish to avoid food additives of which the mix is entirely made.

54 Responses to Thai Soured Pork Ribs – Naem Si Krong Mu (แหนมซี่โครงหมู)

  1. Moonypants February 18, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    This looks delicious!

    I never knew that there were more variations of nem chau! I thought the pink, fermented, ground pork and the grilled pork balls were the only variety there were. Thank you for opening my eyes *_* I can’t wait to try this recipe and for the rest of this series.

  2. Michael February 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    อุ๊ย…. น่ากินหนอ แล้วสอนแฟนคลับพี่ทำแหนมข้าวทอดเมื่อไรนะครับ?

  3. Leela February 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Michael – ขอบคุณค่า รอหน่อยนะ คิว requests ยาวมาก . :)

  4. Rick February 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    These look delicious…

  5. OysterCulture February 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    This looks and sounds delicious, aside from the taste, does the fermenting change the texture much? I’m assuming it does, but looking for confirmation. I am also curious as you suggest cooking it here, is that traditional treatment for the meat as well, or is it more traditional in Thailand to serve it raw.

  6. Leela February 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    OsyerCulture – The meat is somewhat tenderized through the process of fermentation which helps because rib meat can be chewy and tough.

    Pork rib naem is always served cooked from what I’ve seen. The traditional naem that is made with ground pork, on the other hand, is served raw most of the time.

  7. Kelly @ Evil Shenanigans February 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    I suppose the fermenting reduces the cooking time since the process would naturally tenderize the meat. Sounds like an interesting way to prepare pork ribs.

  8. Dorrie February 22, 2011 at 6:01 am #

    A big Thank You for his recipe! I am a pork rib addict and I love naem, so, preparing these ribs will be one of my next projects, as soon I am home in my kitchen again!

    Are there any restaurants in Bangkok which serve them?

  9. Leela February 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Dorris – You’re welcome!

    Oh, gosh, pork rib naem and its uber-popular cousin, chicken tendon naem, can be found almost anywhere — in sit-down restaurants or on the streets. Any restaurant specializing in northeastern or northern cuisine usually has either one or both of them. Any beer garden-type places have them; so do most mall food courts.

    The new-to-me chain restaurant, Zaap Express, has pork rib naem in all of their branches.

  10. 597d35cc-4eb0-11e0-996e-000bcdcb471e March 15, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    I tried the recipe and it was so gooooood! I used the vacuum bag and left on the counter for 4 days. Ate with cut up hot chili pieces, roasted peanuts, fresh ginger pieces and lime cubes. Beer, of course, lots of beer. Thanks again, Leela. My in-laws came for a visit and saw the bag of meat on the counter. The look on their faces was priceless. They left before it was ready but I know they would have loved the taste. I love meat cooked on the bone. Another one of my favorites.

  11. Leela March 15, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    597d35cc-4eb0-11e0-996e-000bcdcb471e – Thanks for the report! Glad you liked it.

  12. Leela March 15, 2011 at 3:09 am #

    597d35cc-4eb0-11e0-996e-000bcdcb471e – Just noticed the reference to vacuum bag. Great idea!

  13. 597d35cc-4eb0-11e0-996e-000bcdcb471e March 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Leela,

    How strange! Not sure how my id came up as 597d35cc… 35cc is not a bad name.

    nooami

  14. Leela March 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Noomi – haha. I love that name. :)

  15. Dan April 3, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    This is so awesome, so friggin’ awesome, so worth the 3 day wait. I had this in Ubon a few years ago and I thought it was gonna be so hard to make. This tastes even better than what I had. Still can’t believe I made this.

    The only thing missing is a bottle of cold Chang. ;-)

    Dan

  16. Leela April 3, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    Dan – Friggin’ awesome sounds about right. Thanks for the report.

  17. Cath April 4, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    OMG these are/were good! We’re still eating our batch now. Even with a few minor glitches along the way, the final flavour was amazing. That sour note I can only remember from good Asian sausage. We went to 4 days, only because life got in the way, and I was scared, but they were magical.

  18. Joel August 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Leela – Curing with salt is certainly the traditional way to do this and other curing projects. I do lacto-fermenting a lot…I actually have two projects going right now, a soft drink made from sweet tea and apples, and a red beet project. I also recently did kimchee. The way I make sure it always works perfectly is to add active-culture whey to whatever I’m trying to cure. (Just strain plain yoghurt through a very clean man’s handkerchief for several hours to get the whey.) This innoculates whatever your project is with beneficial bacteria, ensuring a faster project and also ensuring that any bad wild bacteria don’t get started first. I also add a couple tablespoons of whey when I make mayonnaise, and then leave it on the counter overnight…it will then last for a month in the refrigerator instead of three days.

    Going to have to try soured meat…I haven’t ever done that before.

  19. Admin August 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    Joel – Thank you so much. This is very helpful, and I will definitely experiment with whey. I’ve also learned how to use freeze-dried culture in souring meat per Bob del Grosso’s instructions. It seems to achieve the same effect (which is to ensure that the nasty bacteria don’t get out of control and to shorten the fermentation without compromising with the taste). Bob and I recently worked on this northeastern Thai soured sausage. Thought you might be interested.

  20. rosey 360 August 25, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    could you use thinly sliced pork shoulder??

  21. Admin August 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Rosey – Yes, you can. I’ve made this three times using 1/2 inch thick slices of pork neck and grill them like this. Turned out very well.

  22. Dorrie September 4, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    It took me a while, butr I did it, I made the ribs – and they taste great. Thanks a lot, Leela :)

  23. TBone September 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Has anyone tried this recipe with pork belly or country-style ribs? Also, is it possible to freeze the pork to stop fermentation but save to cook at a later date?

  24. Admin September 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    TBone – I’ve had fatty pork jowl made this way, but never actually tried pork belly. People have prepared wild boar this way, but that’s still different from pork belly. Would you like to try that and let us know?

    The fermented meat can be frozen to cook at a later date.

  25. Anonymous October 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    This looks delicious – I think I’m going to try making it this weekend.

    A few questions:

    - About the cooked rice – 1- Can it be any kind of cooked rice? and 2- Does it have be freshly-cooked rice? I have some leftover cooked jasmine rice from dinner last night that is sitting in the fridge right now.

    - Can I dry my ribs with paper towel (like Bounty) or does it have to be a cloth towel?

    - Approximately how long does it take to cook in the oven?

    - I’ve never actually eaten this before (but I’m sure I will love it!) so I’m not exactly sure what kind of taste to expect when I’m testing to see if it’s fermented enough. You mentioned it will be sour and salty – how salty? What kind of sour flavour is it comparable to?

    Thanks!!

    – Jenn

  26. Admin October 28, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    Jenn,

    - It can be any kind of cooked rice, but the fresher the better because we don’t want to bring into the mix nasty bacteria. Cooked rice which has been left out on the counter for over a day wouldn’t present more risk; ditto with rice from the same bowl or pot which someone has scooped out of with a dirty spoon earlier, etc.

    - Yep.

    - Depends. I’d say 40-45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, you can deep-fry the ribs too. In fact, it’s more common for the ribs to be fried than baked. I was just lazy.

    - These should be salty, but not so salty that you can’t eat them without rice. And they have some pleasant ferment-y (not a word, I know) taste to it. Closest thing to these I can think of is salami. But then we’re comparing something dry-cured with something wet-cured.

  27. Anonymous October 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Thanks for the tips. I actually prefer to bake things because I find that deep frying takes more effort (especially when I don’t have a deep fryer and have to monitor the temperature myself).
    If I don’t have the chance to eat them by day 5 (I’m in night classes 3 days/week), can I put them in the fridge to slow down the fermentation?
    Thanks,

    – Jenn

  28. Admin October 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Jenn – Yeah, I don’t like deep-frying thing either. And, yes, you can refrigerate the ribs to slow down the fermentation.

  29. Anonymous November 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Hi,
    I am on day 5 of fermenting my ribs. My apartment is on the cold side (68F) so I haven’t bothered tasting the ribs yet. I just noticed yesterday (morning of day 4) that there is some bubbling, which I’m assuming is the fermentation, and a little bit of liquid, which I’m assuming is from the salt drawing the liquid out of the meat. Is this all normal? The colour of the ribs is still normal – no green tinge. I am fermenting the ribs in a tall glass jar similar to the one that you have in your pictures. Should I take a piece out to cook and taste? I’m worried that if it’s not ready, I might introduce some unwanted airborne microbes into the jar…
    Thanks,

    Jenn

  30. Admin November 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    Jenn – Based on your description, it seems normal to me, although mine has never bubbled. I’d take a piece out, microwave it until it’s cooked all the way through and taste for sourness. It should be ready at this point.

  31. Anonymous November 4, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    Hi,
    So I just took a few pieces out to taste-test. It turns out that it was bubbling out because I had packed the ribs right up to the very top, and some rice had gotten stuck in the grooves of the lid, so I guess the fermentation had no where to go but out! Anyway, the ribs taste pretty good so far – awesomely garlicky and salty, and a little bit sour. Too bad I don’t have a pH tester… I was wondering, will it get much saltier if I leave it out for another day (it’s quite salty already)? Or is the salt pretty much fully integrated into the meat and it’s only the fermentation that is continuing to develop? I’m planning to eat them tomorrow regardless; I just don’t know if I should put them in the fridge to slow the salting – I don’t mind if they get a little more sour.
    Thanks,

    Jenn

  32. Admin November 4, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Jenn – At this point, I would refrigerate it and let it ferment some more slowly for a couple of days longer, if you want it more sour. The ribs won’t get that much saltier but they will ge more sour. When you decide to cook them, I’d microwave one piece just to see if it’s salty enough for you. If not, knead in a bit more salt before cooking.

  33. Anonymous November 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Thanks. I ended up letting it sit out for another day. Cooked them last night and they were awesome!! Served with steamed jasmine rice and a simple thai-style salad. 40 minutes at 375F was a little too long in my oven though – they were a little more blackened than I would have liked them to be (definitely way darker than your pictures!). But the crisped up rice/garlic bits were great. Very tasty and the perfect amount of sour. I’m so excited to have this recipe in my repertoire now – will definitely be making it again. Thanks!!

    Jenn

  34. Anonymous November 25, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    I have done these ribs twice (fried them) and I have a question: how cooked should they be? It seems to me that my first batch, which was less cooked (pinkish center) was better because it was more tender. In your opinion, is it safe to eat them pink like that (something akin to medium-rare)? I served the first batch to 12 people and nobody got sick, so I know they were safe that time, but I’m wondering if it’s common practice to them not-too cooked.

  35. Admin November 25, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    Anon – I cook them all the way through. In fact, in Thailand, most people like their fermented ribs fried until deep golden brown because of the crunch and the caramelization on the exteriors. I’m just too lazy to deep-fry anything.

    As for doneness, no strict rules apply. Traditionally, naem is made with chopped pork meat (and sometimes skin) and people routinely eat that completely raw. But the manufacturers are careful to add nitrate/nitrite to the raw pork, so it’s pretty safe. In this case, I’d say that it’s best to cook the ribs all the way through. And if you want the ribs more tender, bake them long, slow, and at low-ish temperature (covered with foil) until tender then sear them off before serving.

  36. h4 February 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    can i use pork but in place of rib?

  37. Admin February 15, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    h4 – Absolutely.

  38. James September 14, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    Is there a risk of botulism with this process?

    Would it be safer to allow air into the container? – since botulism requires an oxygen free environment

    thanks

    • Leela September 14, 2012 at 7:27 am #

      Honestly, I have no idea which poses more risk. Anyone want to help?
      The container isn’t vacuuma-sealed in the manner of hot water canning, though. So there’s definitely some oxygen in there.

  39. Billy September 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi,
    I’ve been thinking about buying some lactic acid for lactart sodas (like this: http://www.artofdrink.com/product/lactart ). Any thoughts on whether I could use straight lactic acid to substitute for fermented rice in this? I saw you mentioned elsewhere the problem of using limeade/citric acid is that it tastes different, so I was wondering if using the same acid type would account for any differences or if there’s other factors I haven’t considered.
    Seems like it’d save time and eliminate any risks from fermentation(especially if I wanted to tweak the recipe), albeit not as cost effective. Since it won’t be fermented for days, I’d imagine the acid wouldn’t tenderize the rib meat used here, but maybe this would work for the Sai Krok Isan.

    Thanks
    Billy

  40. foo December 30, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Hi Leela

    Is the rice supposed to get a very noticeable green hue after 24 hours ?
    In the article you say:

    > At later stages of fermentation, you will see that the color of the pork has
    > changed somewhat. Don’t let the greenish hue freak you out; it’s perfectly
    > fine.

    That seems to be a reference to the color of the meat, not the rice though, right ?

    Could it be that the rice isn’t properly distributed, or something like that ?

    Thanks

    • Leela January 1, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      The rice has simply taken on the green-tinted juice of the meat. It’s okay.

  41. foo December 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    After about 36 hours the rice is definitely green :/

    I used basmati rice, recently cooked, but not hot anymore. The jar I put everything in was hot though, so some water could’ve been introduced as a result of condensation…

    The green color is pretty alarming. Is this normal ? Is the naem safe to eat this way ?

    • Leela January 1, 2013 at 12:58 am #

      That’s completely normal, foo.

      • foo January 1, 2013 at 6:26 am #

        Thanks ;]

      • foo January 1, 2013 at 10:48 am #

        Just tried one, deep fried – excellent ;]

        You mention we shouldn’t fiddle with the salt and rice ratios – is it ok to decrease the amount of garlic, or add some other spices ?

        Also – can this sort of dish be made with other kinds of meat/fish ? If so, what kind of adjustments would I have to make ?

        Thanks!

        • Leela January 1, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

          The role which garlic plays in this is only to make naem taste like naem. But from the fermentation standpoint, it’s not a factor, so you can do anything to it. You can use this method with other types of meat. The length of time it takes to ferment different types of meat is the only thing to watch out for. Boneless fish fillets, for example, tend to sour more quickly than beef short ribs. Gotta play by ear.

  42. Joey April 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    @leela I feel as though Garlic was also used as an antibacterial and antiviral agent to protect the meat in the fermentation process, no? I love these delicious morsels I am working on my second batch and well it is the only thing that I eat that is not Paleo or Primal. Love your website and recipes thank you so much for giving us such great insight into Thai culture! I love it!

  43. Charlie August 3, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    I started with a question about whether I could grill these ribs, but after reading all the way through the replies here, I not only have the answer, but I have to tell you how impressed I am with your patience and kindness to your readers, answering every question even when it had been completely covered in the first posting or previously answered by you several times in the replies. It’s not just the recipes or the excellent writing that make this blog brilliant, it’s you. In an age of snarky “experts,” thank you for brightening these here internets. And the food, of course. The food.

    • Leela August 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Thank you, Charlie.

  44. Andy January 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    I prepared some pork and beef spare ribs using your recipe here but I’m concerned about the pork. There are a couple of bits of rice (that I can see through the jar at least) that have turned green. I opened it up to grab a few pieces out to cook and test and there was no funky odor and they tasted *awesome*. Should I be worried about the green bits?

    • Leela January 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

      Andy – No. As mentioned in the post and in the comments, it’s fine.

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