Vietnamese Caramel Fish

4 Servings

30 minutes

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To make Vietnamese cá kho tộ, fish is cooked in a savory-sweet caramel sauce, both seasoning the fish and keeping it moist. To ensure our sauce was dark and savory, not cloying, we cooked the sugar a little longer, creating a darker and slightly bitter caramel. We found that a tablespoon of coconut water helped the sugar caramelize faster, getting us the deep coffee color we were after in just minutes. Keep a close eye on the caramel to prevent it from burning and becoming too bitter. Dark, oily fish are common in this dish, but we liked it better with a firm whitefish. Note that cooking times are for fillets about ¾ inch thick.




Don’t use canned coconut milk here. Coconut water is widely available and lends a slight sweetness and subtle coconut flavor to the caramel. If you can’t find it, use water.

30 minutes


  • 1

    tablespoon plus ½ cup coconut water

  • ¼

    cup white sugar


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Shawn B.
January 21, 2023
Great dish
This looks s one of our favorite recipes. Im careful of the steam created when adding the fish sauce, but if you just keep whisking the caramel will blend in. Follow the directions and you will love this dish. Flavor is great!
Kay R.

I have made the caramel fish a couple times. The sauce tastes good but the caramel hardens after adding the coconut water. I am able to re-incorporate it but the sauce never thickens.

T C M.

I agree with the difficulty with caramelization; and overall not a pleasing dish due to the smells generated in its preperation... they make it difficult to enjoy the fish. Love most recipes on Milk Street but not this one.