This soup packs complex flavors, and it’s inspired by a coconut soup we made at Vong restaurant back in the day, which was based on the classic Thai soup tom kha gai.
The combination and depth of flavors in coconut, chiles, fish sauce, and lime drew me into Southeast Asian cuisine, and I continue to be inspired by that food through travels to that area and by experimenting with these ingredients at home and in the restaurant.
The addition of peanut butter to this soup adds a rich roasted saltiness that just can’t be matched.
Rub the pork with the sugar, 1/3 of the garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt. Place it in a glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown it on all sides. Remove and set it aside. Add 1 tablespoon more oil to the pot and lower the heat to medium. Add half of the onions and another 1/3 of the garlic and sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of the wine, increase the heat to a simmer, then reduce the liquid by half.
Reserve 1 cup of the tomatoes and add the rest to the pot. Add the peanut butter, stirring until it melts into the liquid. Add the broth, vinegar, mustard, fish sauce, fennel seeds, and chile paste. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the pork back in, cover the pot, and transfer it to the oven. Braise the pork until the meat is very tender, 3-3 ½ hours.
Remove the pork from the liquid and set it aside to cool slightly. Strain the liquid and skim off the fat with a slotted spoon (alternatively, let the liquid cool completely in the refrigerator and skim off the fat cap that forms once it’s cold). Pull the meat away from the fat, and discard the fat. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add the remaining onions and garlic and sweat by cooking them until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ¼ cup wine, increase the heat to medium-high, then reduce the liquid by half. Add the reserved 1 cup tomatoes and the strained soup liquid. Simmer to reduce by 1/3, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the meat and coconut milk. Simmer the soup for an additional 15-20 minutes so the flavors come together. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Divide the soup among bowls, squeeze a bit of lime juice over each serving, and sprinkle with chopped peanuts and cilantro.