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In Ho Chi Minh City, cooks lacquer chicken with an easy savory-sweet sauce
Milk Street Bowtie Vietnamese Caramel Chicken

Vietnamese Caramel Chicken

Appears in May-June 2020

40 minutes

Vietnamese Caramel Chicken

Free

The classic Vietnamese technique of simmering meat or fish in dark, bittersweet caramel mixed with fish sauce and a few aromatics yields rich, wonderfully complex savory-sweet flavors. And the technique could hardly be simpler. Instead of a traditional clay pot, we use a 12-inch skillet to make our version of gà kho, or caramel-simmered chicken, and we cook the chicken until the sauce forms a glaze, as we were taught in Vietnam. Bruising the lemon grass releases its flavor and fragrance but since the stalk is still whole, it is easy to remove and discard before serving; the simplest way to bruise it is with the blunt side of the blade of a chef’s knife or the butt end of the handle. Serve the chicken with steamed jasmine rice.


Vietnamese Caramel Pork Tenderloin

Cut two 1¼-pound pork tenderloins (trimmed of silver skin) in half lengthwise, then crosswise into ½-inch-thick pieces. Follow the recipe to make the caramel and cook the chilies, lemon grass, ginger and pepper. Add the pork and cook, stirring often, until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a medium bowl, then continue to cook the caramel mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of honey, about 2 minutes. Off heat, return the pork to the skillet and stir to coat. Discard the lemongrass, then stir in the lime juice. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the scallions.

Vietnamese Caramel Salmon

Cut 2 pounds 1-inch-thick skinless salmon fillets into 1½-inch cubes. Follow the recipe to make the caramel and cook the chilies, lemon grass, ginger and pepper. Add the salmon and cook, stirring often, until the salmon is just opaque throughout, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and discard the lemongrass, then stir in the lime juice. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the scallions.


¼ cup white sugar
4 tablespoons coconut water or water, divided
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 Fresno or serrano chilies, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, bruised
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Ingredients
  • ¼

    cup white sugar

  • 4

    tablespoons coconut water or water, divided

  • 3

    tablespoons fish sauce

  • 2

    Fresno or serrano chilies, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

  • 1

    stalk lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, bruised

  • 2

    teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 1

    teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 2

    pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces

  • 1

    tablespoon lime juice

  • 2

    scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

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Vietnamese Caramel Chicken

Get Ready to Cook

4-6

Servings

40 minutes

Tip

Don’t be shy when cooking the caramel. Allow it to darken deeply—a smoky, bitter caramel is what gives this dish depth of flavor. It should reach a mahogany hue and will smoke lightly when ready.

Ingredients
  • ¼

    cup white sugar

  • 4

    tablespoons coconut water or water, divided

  • 3

    tablespoons fish sauce

  • 2

    Fresno or serrano chilies, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

  • 1

    stalk lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, bruised

  • 2

    teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 1

    teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 2

    pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces

  • 1

    tablespoon lime juice

  • 2

    scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Step 1 of 3

Prepare Caramel

¼
cup white sugar
2
tablespoons coconut water or water

In a 12-inch skillet, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the coconut water. Cook over medium-high, occasionally swirling the pan to help the sugar dissolve and to encourage even browning, until the caramel is mahogany in color and smokes lightly, 4 to 6 minutes.

Step 2 of 3

Combine Ingredients In Skillet

3
tablespoons fish sauce
2
tablespoons coconut water or water
2
Fresno or serrano chilies, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1
stalk lemon grass, trimmed to the lower 5 or 6 inches, bruised
2
teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1
teaspoon ground black pepper
2
pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces

Remove the pan from the heat and add the fish sauce along with the remaining 2 tablespoons coconut water; the mixture will bubble vigorously and the caramel will harden in spots.


Bring to a simmer over medium and cook, stirring, until the hardened bits have dissolved. Add the chilies, lemon grass, ginger and pepper, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.


Increase to medium-high and stir in the chicken. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces and clings to the chicken, 10 to 14 minutes.

Step 3 of 3

Finish and Serve

1
tablespoon lime juice
2
scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Remove from the heat, then discard the lemongrass. Stir in the lime juice. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the scallions.

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Vietnamese Caramel Chicken

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