3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped shallot, or 3 tablespoons of coarsely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup of coarsely chopped fresh lemongrass (from 2 medium stalks; tough outer layer discarded)
2 tablespoons of light or dark brown sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of canola or other neutrally flavored oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of fish sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of molasses or dark amber honey
4 thin-cut, bone-in pork chops (6 ounces each), about 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup of nuoc cham dipping sauce (optional; see note)
Combine the garlic, shallot or onion, lemongrass, brown sugar and pepper in a mini food processor; process to a fine texture. Add the canola oil, fish sauce, soy sauce and molasses or honey; process until relatively smooth, to form a wet paste. This is your marinade; transfer to a mixing bowl.
Use paper towels to blot excess moisture from the pork. Add the pork to the marinade, turning to coat well, then cover and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Or, refrigerate for up to 24 hours; let the meat sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.
Heat a cast-iron stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove the chops, discarding any leftover marinade. Do not wipe off the meat.
Add the pork chops to the pan; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, turning frequently, until firm and cooked through. To check doneness, pierce with the tip of a sharp knife; it’s okay if the center is faintly pink. Transfer them to a plate to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Serve the chops warm, passing the dipping sauce at the table, if desired.
VARIATION: To make the marinade without a food processor, mince the garlic and shallot, transfer to a large bowl, then mix with 3 tablespoons grated or minced lemongrass (or store-bought lemongrass paste) and the remaining ingredients.
NOTE: To make the dipping sauce, combine 1 tablespoon sugar (or 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup), 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice and 1/4 cup warm water in a medium bowl. Taste, and, as needed, add 3/4 teaspoon sugar (or 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup) and/or 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice; dilute with water if you go too far. If there’s an unpleasant tart-bitter edge, add 2 teaspoons of plain rice vinegar to fix the flavor. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, aiming for a bold, forward finish that’s a little gutsy. If you want heat, add 1 thinly sliced Thai or serrano chile, or 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chile garlic sauce or sambal oelek; for pungency, add 1 small minced garlic clove. The yield is 1/2 to 2/3 cup.