grilled lemongrass pork skewers
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Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers (Nem Nướng Sả)

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The delicious aroma of grilled lemongrass & garlic combined with the umami flavour of fish sauce and juicy texture of ground pork with every bite, makes this a favourite get-together appetizer fresh off the grill.
Vietnamese cooking! Want to try? Some may think it’s complicated (sometimes it is!) but for the most part, it’s less complicated than perceived. Understandably, knowing what ingredients to use and where to buy them can be intimidating for someone who has never tried to cook a vietnamese dish before.

Fortunately, depending where you live, there are plenty of asian grocery stores that carry all of the ingredients needed for a vietnamese recipe. So, don’t be afraid to try this! I break down each step for you to follow and explain what each ingredient’s purpose is. I promise, the end result will be worth it and you’ll be happy you tried it (hopefully inspired to cook it again too!)

*Good To Know*

  • What is lemongrass and where can I find it?
    Fresh lemongrass looks like a stalk with long grass blades and is also known as barbed wire grass (because of its harmless ‘razor’ like grass blades). Its scent can be described as a pleasant citrus scent, similar to a mix of ginger, mint and lemon. It’s a common herb used in vietnamese or thai dishes but its fragrance can also be found in scented oils, soaps, lotions, candles and so many more. Lemongrass can be purchased fresh or frozen (minced & whole).
    For our pork skewer recipe, frozen minced lemongrass is preferred for the purpose of convenience. You can mince fresh lemongrass if that’s what you prefer (or if you can’t find it in the frozen aisle). Learn how to mince fresh lemongrass to freeze in my how-to section here.
  • What is Fish Sauce? How to choose a good one?
    These days, fish sauce seems to be a well-known condiment and is a go-to staple in asian cuisine. It’s made with anchovies (or squid) that have been covered in salt/ water and fermented in wooden barrels for a couple of years. By doing so, the umami taste you get in the fish sauce is what brings out a different note of salty / earthy flavour in a dish and is uniquely delicious! Some may not be fond of its distinct ‘fishy’ or pungy smell, but once cooked, the flavour is more prominent than the smell.
    It may be tempting to buy fish sauce that is cheap in price, however, I recommend buying fish sauce at a mid to premium price for better quality. Choose fish sauce bottled in glass (not plastic) and one that has been imported from Vietnam ( if it says “Phu Quoc” or made in “Phu Quoc” even better since that’s a famous area where a lot of the fish sauce is made). Look for a light amber colour and avoid the dark brown coloured fish sauce.
  • Why use ice water for the recipe?
    I’ve made this dish numerous times and adjusted it based on testing different methods. Ice water helps keep the meat cold (and juicy for grilling). The meat tends to warm a little while it’s being minced in the food processor.
  • Can I freeze the meat sticks?
    Yes you can. Freezing or refrigerating the meat for a minimum of 30 minutes or longer helps the meat develop more flavour and allows the meat to retain juicy texture by the time it’s grilled because we’ve stopped the fat within the meat from melting.
  • Can I use lean ground pork?
    I highly recommend using medium ground pork (where the fat content is higher) because this is what minimizes the meat sticks from turning tough and dry. Understandably, lean ground pork is more commonly found at the grocery store. If you can’t find medium ground pork, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the marinade.
  • Can I skip adding sugar?
    Savoury vietnamese recipes call for white, cane or palm sugar a lot of the times (typically southern vietnamese dishes). My recommendation is to add sugar for a balanced flavour profile however, if you feel strongly about not adding sugar, I recommend reducing the fish sauce by 1 to 2 Tablespoons. Aside from flavour, the sugar is what also gives this meat recipe it’s browning colour once grilled.
  • Why the cornstarch?
    Because of the liquids I’ve added to the ground pork, I needed a binding agent to keep the meat together. Instead of using eggs, I used cornstarch since it has the same effects of binding the meat without the additional liquid (and flavour change) you would get with eggs.
  • Can I pan fry or bake the meat instead?
    Pan frying the meat as small meat patties works too. Shape them into small discs, cook on high heat with a little water in the pan and cover with a lid. Once the water has almost evaporated, remove lid and continue to pan fry (with flippings in between) until the meat is fully cooked and browned.
    If you choose to bake, you can shape it into discs or meat sticks and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until the meat is cooked. To give it some colour, broil on high for 3 minutes.

Let me preface….traditional vietnamese grilled pork (Nem Nướng) does not have lemongrass in it. This is my version of Nem Nướng since I am a huge fan of lemongrass and wanted to incorporate it. Traditional Nem Nướng is made slightly different with garlic, green onions and a hint of food color ( recipe post for that coming to you at a later time).

grilled lemongrass pork ingredients

What you need to prepare and grill pork skewers

If you have eaten at a vietnamese restaurant before, this type of meat (Nem Nướng) is typically served as an appetizer (pink meat on a sugar cane stick) or in a vermicelli meal combo. It’s sweet/savoury/fatty in flavour and very delicious!

My homemade, lemongrass version entails the following ingredients:

• ground pork   • cornstarch
• lemongrass    • black pepper
• fish sauce       • ice water
• sugar

By using a food processor, everything is mixed in one appliance and all you need to do is shape the meat onto the skewers. Quick. Easy. Tasty!

grilled lemongrass pork skewers

How to pan fry or bake pork patties

If you don’t have a barbecue or grill, you can still cook this meat on the stovetop with a nonstick pan and a lid. Shape your meat into small discs (so they cook faster). On high heat sear the patties on both sides to seal the meat, add about 1/4 cup of water and close lid. Bring water to a boil and occasionally flip the meat while it’s cooking in the water. When water has mostly evaporated, remove lid and continue to cook the patties until all of the water has evaporated and you’re left with some grease from the meat that will help finish browning it.

To bake, shape the meat into patties or sticks and bake at 350°F (176.7°C) for 20 to 25 minutes (flip half way). Broil on high for 3 minutes to give it a golden brown colour.

lemongrass pork patties

Looking for more skewer ideas to grill? Try my Teriyaki Sesame Beef skewers recipe  or my Marinated Veggie Skewers and let me know what you think!

grilled lemongrass pork skewers

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers (Nem Nướng Sả)

The delicious aroma of grilled lemongrass & garlic combined with the umami flavour of fish sauce and juicy texture of ground pork with every bite, makes this a favourite get-together appetizer fresh off the grill.
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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Refrigeration Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Yields: 24 skewers

Ingredients

Tools

  • 24 skewers wooden or bamboo, soaked in water for 1 hour

Lemongrass Pork

  • cups (101 g) minced lemongrass, frozen or fresh
  • 3 tablespoons (8 cloves) garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 6 tablespoons (89 g) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) ground black pepper
  • cup (79 ml) fish sauce
  • ½ cup (118 ml) ice water
  • pounds (1.13 kg) medium ground pork, (if using lean ground pork, add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil)
  • 3 tablespoons (44 g) corn starch

Oil For Greasing

  • ¼ cup (59 ml) vegetable oil

INSTRUCTIONS 

  • Soak wooden skewers in water for 1 hour prior to grilling (to help prevent sticks from burning too quickly)
  • Add to a food processor lemongrass, garlic, sugar, black pepper, fish sauce, water (without the ice). Cover and mix at high speed for 1 minute or until well combined.
  • Add ground pork to processor and pulsate for 30 seconds then mix at high speed for 3 minutes or until well combined with marinade. Pause in between to scrape down bowl.
  • Add cornstarch to meat mixture and mix on high speed for 2 minutes or until well incorporated into meat. Scoop meat into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • When ready to skewer meat, line a bake tray with parchment or wax paper. Place a letter-size (8.5 x 11") sheet of plastic wrap on top of your counter or cutting board. Brush surface of plastic wrap with vegetable oil to prevent meat from sticking. Brush some oil into the palm of your (clean) hands as well.
  • Scoop meat the size of a golf ball into your hands and roll meat into a short log ( approx. 2 inches long). Place log at the center of the oiled plastic wrap with the length of the meat log parallel to you. Insert a skewer stick into the center of the meat log, length wise until the pointed part of the skewer is visible by 1 cm once pierced. Fold the plastic wrap over the meat skewer and use one hand to hold the stick on the pointed end. Use other hand to lengthen or stretch the meat along the skewer stick until the meat is evenly distributed on the stick (roll it on the board a few times to shape it evenly). Gently unwrap plastic wrap and place pork skewer on bake tray.
  • Repeat step #6 until all of the meat has been distributed on skewer sticks. If necessary, cover the single layer of meat sticks with plastic wrap, then stack a second layer on top of these ( to prevent them from sticking to one another). Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to grill to prevent the fat from melting and breaking down. Grill meat sticks on medium-low heat on the barbecue for 5 to 10 minutes or until fully cooked and lightly browned.
Category: Appetizer
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Keyword: bbq, pork, sausage, skewers

Tips

What is lemongrass and where can I find it?
Fresh lemongrass looks like a stalk with long grass blades and is also known as barbed wire grass (because of its harmless ‘razor’ like grass blades). Its scent can be described as a pleasant citrus scent, similar to a mix of ginger, mint and lemon. It’s a common herb used in vietnamese or thai dishes but its fragrance can also be found in scented oils, soaps, lotions, candles and so many more. Lemongrass can be purchased fresh or frozen (minced & whole).
For our pork skewer recipe, frozen minced lemongrass is preferred for the purpose of convenience. You can mince fresh lemongrass if that’s what you prefer (or if you can’t find it in the frozen aisle). To mince, cut off 0.5 cm or the hard stem part of the lower bulb and then peel off the tough outer leaves. What you should be left with is the main yellow stalk that is soft. Thinly slice it with a sharp knife and process it in a food processor until finely minced (since it’s quite stringy and fibrous, make sure to mince this well).
What is Fish Sauce? How to choose a good one?
These days, fish sauce seems to be a more well-known condiment and is a go-to staple in asian cuisine. It’s made with anchovies (or squid) that have been covered in salt/ water and fermented in wooden barrels for a couple of years. By doing so, the umami taste you get in the fish sauce is what brings out a different note of salty / earthy flavour in a dish and is uniquely delicious! Some may not be fond of its distinct ‘fishy’ or pungy smell, but once cooked, the flavour is more prominent than the smell. It may be tempting to buy fish sauce that is cheap in price, however, I recommend buying fish sauce at a mid to premium price for better quality. Choose fish sauce bottled in glass (not plastic) and one that has been imported from Vietnam ( if it says “Phu Quoc” or made in “Phu Quoc” even better since that’s a famous area where a lot of the fish sauce is made). Look for a light amber colour and avoid the dark brown coloured fish sauce.
Why use ice water for the recipe?
I’ve made this dish numerous times and adjusted it based on testing different methods. Ice water helps keep the meat cold (and juicy for grilling). The meat tends to warm a little while it’s being minced in the food processor.
Can I freeze the meat sticks?
Yes you can. Freezing or refrigerating the meat for a minimum of 30 minutes or longer helps the meat develop more flavour and allows the meat to retain juicy texture by the time it’s grilled because we’ve stopped the fat within the meat from melting.
Can I use lean ground pork?
I highly recommend using medium ground pork (where the fat content is higher) because this is what minimizes the meat sticks from turning tough and dry. Understandably, lean ground pork is more commonly found at the grocery store. If you can’t find medium ground pork, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the marinade.
Can I skip adding sugar?
Savoury vietnamese recipes call for white, cane or palm sugar a lot of the times (typically southern vietnamese dishes). My recommendation is to add sugar for a balanced flavour profile however, if you feel strongly about not adding sugar, I recommend reducing the fish sauce by 1 to 2 Tablespoons. Aside from flavour, the sugar is what also gives this meat recipe it’s browning colour once grilled.
Why the cornstarch?
Because of the liquids I’ve added to the ground pork, I needed a binding agent to keep the meat together. Instead of using eggs, I used cornstarch since it has the same effects of binding the meat without the additional liquid (and flavour change) you would get with eggs.
Can I pan fry or bake the meat instead?
Pan frying the meat as small meat patties works too. Shape them into small discs, cook on high heat with a little water in the pan and cover with a lid. Once the water has almost evaporated, remove lid and continue to pan fry (with flippings in between) until the meat is fully cooked and browned.
If you choose to bake, you can shape it into discs or meat sticks and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until the meat is cooked. To give it some colour, broil on high for 3 minutes.
Nutrition Facts
Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers (Nem Nướng Sả)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 147 Calories from Fat 90
% Daily Value*
Fat 10g15%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Cholesterol 34mg11%
Sodium 280mg12%
Potassium 179mg5%
Carbohydrates 5g2%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 8g16%
Vitamin A 3IU0%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 13mg1%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Did you make this? I would love to see your creation!Tag me @sweet2savoury on Instagram and hashtag it #sweet2savoury

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