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Thai Red Curry and Tamarind Pork Butt in Banana Leaves

I love pork. Between my classes and contests, I usually have one or two pork butts in the fridge or freezer. I’m constantly tinkering with different ways to cook this versatile and delectable cut from the hog. You may not be aware that the pork butt has seven major muscles that all taste different and have completely different textures. Of course, when you eat a pulled pork sandwich, you can’t taste the different textures and flavors as everything is mixed together. For example, you’ve probably heard of the very tasty and well marbled “money muscle” which is what barbecue competitors like to turn into the judges. There’s also a 1-inch diameter tubular muscle within the butt called the cellar that looks and tastes just like chicken breast. There’s another area of that can be pulled into individual 5-inch strands that you can braid like rope.

A pork butt has a lot of connective tissue so a low-and-slow roast in an oven, barbecue pit, or crock pot is a perfect way to tease tenderness and flavor out of it. Since I enjoy Mexican and Thai food for their bold and spicy flavors, I drew my inspiration for this dish from a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish called Cochinita Pibil from the Yucatan Peninsula where the Mayan culture once flourished.

I replaced the red annatto seed paste with store-bought spicy red Thai curry paste. Also, I replaced the acidic citrus juice (lime, blood orange, lemon) with sour tamarind and coconut milk. If you don’t have tamarind, you can substitute with balsamic vinegar and you can replace the coconut milk with yoghurt sweetened with some sugar. I also added some Asian herbs I like such as lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaf (I have a Kaffir bush growing in my garden). If you don’t have kaffir lime leaf, don’t worry as some lime peel or lime zest will also work. The banana leaf adds a unique flavor as the pork roasts in it but if you don’t have it, it’ll be fine.

I like my Thai-style banana leaf barbecue pork with some fragrant garlic Jasmine rice which I cook with 2 cups rice, 2 ½ cups water, 2 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon minced garlic (I fry the garlic in the foil first and add the oil and fried garlic in the rice before cooking). The rice and the pork is garnished with fresh cilantro and more sliced red Jalapeno if you like it spicy.

  • Total Time: 4 hours 30 mins
  • Yield: 8 1x


Units Scale
  • 10 lb boneless pork butt, cut into large 2-inch chunks
  • 2 sheets of banana leaf; 12 X 14 inches (from frozen section in Asian market)
  • 10 whole Kaffir lime leaves (or 10 pieces of fresh lime peel)
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, white base portion about 4 inches, smashed with flat side of knife
  • 4 Jalapeno or Serrano chilies, whole

Pork Paste

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 can Thai Red curry paste (from Asian market); Thai Panang curry paste is also good
  • 8 tablespoons tamarind pulp (from Mexican or Asian market)
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (try to use the top half of the can where the coconut cream accumulates)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons SYD All Purpose Rub


  1. If using a brick of tamarind (as shown in the raw ingredients photo at the top of this recipe): bring 3 cups of water to a boil, turn off, and then place the tamarind brick in the pot and cover for about 5 minutes. Break up the tamarind with, for example, the end of a wooden spatula. Let it sit for about 10 more minutes then proceed to break up more. Let it cool down then run through a colander pushing the viscous liquid through leaving behind any seeds and/or fibers (as shown in photo below). You need ½ cup of tamarind juice; make a tasty drink with the leftover paste, by adding some water, ice cubes and sugar (much as you would make lemonade—it’s quite delicious).
  2. In a bowl, mix together the tamarind pulp with vegetable oil, Red Curry Paste, coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, garlic, rub, along with the salt.

  3. Line a foil pan or baking dish with banana leaf. Size the dish and leaf to match the amount of pork you cook. Put the Kaffir lime leaves, Jalapeno, and lemon grass into dish. Add the pork.

  4. Mix the flavors.
  5. Pour the red paste onto the pork and give it a stir to mix the flavors.
  6. Place another piece of banana leaf on top of the pork and cover the entire dish with foil (I often use a disposable foil pan so I don’t have to wash the dish after cooking)
  7. Cook in a 300F oven or pit until pork is probe tender (about 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours). When you open the foil to check for tenderness, be careful not to burn yourself from the steam

  8. Remove the lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves before serving. Stir and shred the pork to mix the wonderful flavors together. (Add any salt if needed.) Serve with steamed rice or corn tortillas. Enjoy!
  • Author: Harry Soo
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 4 hours
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Mexican Thai fusion