As a culinary expert specializing in Vietnamese and Asian cuisine, I am excited to share with you my recipe for Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce, also known as Ca Kho To. This is one of my favorite recipes to make when I want something sweet and savory, yet with a depth of flavor that can only come from traditional Vietnamese ingredients.
This dish is a classic example of “kho” Vietnamese cooking, which means cooking in a clay pot over low heat until the ingredients are caramelized and infused with flavor. The combination of tender, braised fish steeped in a complex and deeply satisfying caramel sauce is simply divine.
As with all ancient recipes, this dish has evolved over time and has been perfected by many chefs. However, my variation on this classic recipe takes it to new heights with the addition of fresh chili peppers, ginger, shallots, and fish sauce made from the best fish from Phu Quoc Island.
Whether you’re new to Vietnamese cuisine or an aficionado, I urge you to try this delectable dish! I promise it will delight your senses and leave you craving for more. So let’s get started on this culinary adventure!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Oh, dear food lovers! Allow me to introduce you to one of the most beloved dishes of Vietnam – the Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce also known as Ca Kho To. With its explosion of flavors, this dish is a masterpiece of the Vietnamese cuisine and an unforgettable experience for your taste buds.
Once you try it, you’ll understand why it’s considered one of Vietnam’s national dishes. The combination of caramelized sugar, tender fish fillets, and savory sauces with ginger and shallots create a perfect balance between sweet and savory that will leave you craving for more. The aroma alone is enough to make your mouth water!
Let’s talk about the star of this dish – the fish. Red snapper fillets are traditionally used in this recipe, but any firm-fleshed fish such as salmon can be used as well. The fillets are simmered to perfection in the sweet and sticky caramel sauce until they’re infused with flavor and fall apart.
But that’s not all – this dish has some heat too! Fresh chili pepper adds a mild spiciness that further elevates the flavors while grounded black pepper adds depth and complexity.
What makes Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce so unique is its versatility. It can be served on special occasions or enjoyed as a comforting weeknight meal. Moreover, it pairs perfectly with steamed rice or French bread, making it an excellent meal option for lunch boxes or dinners with friends.
So, let me ask you a question? Are you ready to expand your culinary horizons? Are you ready to be transported to Vietnam through your taste buds? Then, get ready to fall in love with this dish as much as I have. Trust me; your taste buds will thank you for it!
To create the harmonious blend of sweet and savory flavors that characterize Ca Kho To, you will need to gather the following ingredients:
- 2 lbs of red snapper fillets (you can also use salmon or other firm white fish)
- 3 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 piece of fresh ginger (~2 inches), peeled and sliced
- 1 fresh chili pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
- 2/3 cup of white sugar
- 1/4 cup of fish sauce (I recommend using Phu Quoc or Nam Ngu fish sauce for the best flavor)
- 2 cups of water or coconut water
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Note that some recipes call for clay pots for an even better taste. If you have a clay pot at hand, use it; otherwise, a heavy-bottomed pot like a Dutch oven or a non-stick skillet will do the job just fine.
The Recipe How-To
Now that we have laid out the ingredients, it is time to dive into preparing this succulent Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To). Trust me when I say that you will not regret making this dish once you taste the sweet and salty flavors that saturate every morsel.
Step 1: Prepare the Caramel Sauce
Vietnamese caramel sauce is the soul of this dish, and getting it right takes some practice. Place 1 cup of white sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and keep stirring until it melts and turns into a liquid. Once the sugar caramelizes and turns golden brown, carefully pour over 3/4 cup of warm water to dilute the sauce. Now stir in 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon chopped ginger. You should have a fragrant and dark-brown sauce.
Step 2: Sauté Shallots, Ginger, Chili Pepper
Heat up 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a deep pan or a clay pot over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup finely diced shallots and sauté until they turn translucent. Then add in 1 tablespoon chopped ginger and stir for about 30 seconds before adding sliced 3-4 fresh chili peppers.
Step 3: Add Red Snapper Fillets
Place 2 lbs of red snapper fillets skin-side down in the pot. Pour the caramel sauce over the fish fillets, add enough water to almost cover the fish (about 2 cups), and sprinkle with some freshly ground black pepper.
Step 4: Simmer Low and Slow
Simmer the fish on low heat until the sauce has reduced to about half, which should take approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on your stove. Remember to ladle the sauce over the fish occasionally to make sure all parts are evenly coated with the sauce.
The dish is now ready to eat! Serve it hot with a bowl of steaming jasmine rice and some blanched or sautéed vegetables on the side.
Enjoy your delicious and authentic Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To).
Substitutions and Variations
Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To) is a classic Vietnamese dish that can be made with a variety of fish and different types of sauces. Here are some substitutions and variations that you can make to customize this recipe to your liking:
– Fish: While red snapper fillets are traditionally used for this recipe, you can also use other firm white fish such as halibut, cod, or sea bass. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try using salmon or catfish.
– Sauce: The caramel sauce used in this recipe is made with fish sauce, sugar and coconut water. However, you can switch things up by using soy sauce instead of fish sauce for a different umami flavor. You can also experiment with different types of sugar such as palm sugar or brown sugar to give the sauce a deeper flavor.
– Spices: To add more depth of flavor to the sauce, you can add ginger or galangal for a spicy kick. Fresh chili peppers or dried chili flakes can also be added for extra heat.
– Clay pot: If you don’t have a clay pot, you can use a regular pot or pan for this dish. Just make sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
By making these substitutions and variations, you can create your own unique version of Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce that best suits your tastes. Get creative and have fun exploring the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine!
Serving and Pairing
Once your Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce is ready, it’s time to serve and enjoy this exquisite dish – a delectable combination of sweet and savory flavors that will tantalize your taste buds. This dish is best served over hot steamed rice, and you can’t go wrong with white jasmine rice or sticky rice.
To complement the rich and bold flavors of the caramelized braised fish, consider pairing it with fresh Asian greens such as bok choy or Chinese broccoli, which can be quickly blanched or sautéed for an effortless side dish. You may also want to add some sliced cucumbers for a refreshing crunch that contrasts well with the tender fish.
For an extra burst of flavor, drizzle some lime juice over the cooked fish before serving. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try topping the fish with chopped cilantro or scallions for added freshness and aroma.
Finally, to round out your Vietnamese meal, you can serve other classic Vietnamese dishes alongside the caramelized fish. For example, a side of pickled vegetables such as carrot and daikon or a bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) can make for a complete meal that’s both satisfying and comforting.
Just remember to enjoy this dish slowly and savor each bite, letting the complex flavors unfold on your palate like a well-crafted symphony.
Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating
One of the great things about Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To) is that it can be made ahead of time and reheated when you’re ready to serve it. In fact, many people think that the flavors are even better after it has been stored for a day or two.
To save time, you can make the caramel sauce a few days before cooking the fish. Simply store it in an airtight jar in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. When you’re ready to cook, just heat up the caramel sauce in a pan, add water or coconut water, and then proceed with the recipe as directed.
If you have leftovers, refrigerate them in an airtight container for up to three days. To reheat, simply place the container in a microwave or saucepan and gently warm until heated through. You may need to add a small amount of water or coconut water to thin out the sauce if it has become too thick.
One pro tip is that storing the dish in a clay pot from Vietnam will help preserve its flavors even better. Just make sure to soak and clean the pot properly before using it.
Overall, this Vietnamese-style dish is perfect for busy weeknights or meal prep. With its versatility to be prepared ahead of time and its tasty flavors even after reheating, you can enjoy this dish any time of the week without much fuss.
Tips for Perfect Results
To ensure the best results for this Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce recipe, I have some helpful tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years.
Firstly, be sure to use the freshest ingredients possible, especially when it comes to the fish. Choosing high-quality, fresh red snapper fillets will make a huge difference in the final flavor of the dish. Additionally, using fresh ginger, shallots, and chili pepper will add a depth of flavor that is unmatched.
When browning the sugar, be patient and don’t rush the process. It’s important to take your time and let the sugar caramelize slowly so that it creates a deep and rich brown color. This will ultimately enhance the overall taste of your caramel sauce.
If you want to take this dish to another level, try substituting coconut water or coconut juice in place of regular water for an added layer of tropical sweetness. It pairs perfectly with the salty fish sauce and sweet caramel flavors.
Lastly, if you’re looking to switch up the protein in this dish, try using salmon instead of red snapper fillets for a twist on traditional Vietnamese cuisine. With these tips in mind, you’ll create a perfect dish every time!
As one of the most beloved dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, it’s no surprise that this aromatic and tender braised fish recipe has received a lot of attention over the years. However, as with any recipe, there are often questions and concerns that arise. So to help you navigate the nuances of this delicious dish, I’ve put together a list of some frequently asked questions about Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To), along with my expert tips and advice. Read on to discover everything you need to know to make this dish perfectly every time.
What is the best fish sauce from Vietnam?
Vietnam is known for its variety of high-quality fish sauce brands, each with its unique flavor and characteristics. Some of the popular brands include Nam Ngu fish sauce, which is fermented in Nam Ngu, Phu Quoc and has been recognized as one of the best fish sauce brands in the country. Another well-known brand is Chau Son fish sauce, followed by Ca Na fish sauce, Hung Thinh fish sauce, and Nha Trang 584 fish sauce. These fish sauce brands are widely used in Vietnamese and Asian cuisine, adding savory and umami flavors to dishes.
Is Vietnamese fish sauce different from Thai fish sauce?
When it comes to fish sauce, there’s a distinguishable difference between the flavor of Thai and Vietnamese options. Thai fish sauce tends to have a more intense, salty taste compared to the lighter, more subtle Vietnamese fish sauce. Many believe that the finest Vietnamese fish sauce is produced using fish from Phu Quoc, a small island located on the southwest side of Vietnam.
What is nuoc mam the prized ingredient in Vietnamese cooking also known as?
In Vietnamese cuisine, nước mắm, also known as ‘salted fish water’, holds a significant place as a crucial ingredient, just like olive oil or soy sauce do in other global cuisines.
How is Vietnamese fish sauce made?
Vietnamese fish sauce is a commonly used ingredient in Vietnamese and Asian cuisine. It is made by fermenting anchovies with salt for a period of up to a year. This condiment is traditionally produced by layering the fish between salt in earthenware pots. The use of small fish or krill in the process ensures that the final product is both flavorful and fragrant. The fermentation process creates a deep umami taste that is perfect for complementing a wide range of dishes.
In conclusion, this Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To) recipe is one of the most delicious and savory dishes that you can prepare in your home kitchen. With its sweet and spicy aroma and tender texture, it is one of the best representatives of Vietnamese cuisine. Not only it is easy to make, but it also comes with versatility as you can substitute some of the ingredients or adjust them to your preference.
I hope that my detailed instructions, tips, and recommendations have helped convince you to try this fantastic dish for yourself. It is a must-try recipe for anyone who loves seafood or wants to explore new tastes and flavors.
So next time you are looking for a new fish recipe to try, remember this Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To) recipe and bring the taste of Vietnam into your home. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To) Recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs catfish or 1 1/2 lbs red snapper fillets, cut up into about 4 inch pieces
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (preferably Three Crabs Brand)
- 4 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chili pepper
- 2 slices ginger, julienned
- ground black pepper
- In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, cook the sugar over low to medium heat, swirling the pan constantly, until brown and caramelized.
- Remove pan from heat and stir the fish sauce into the caramel.
- It will smoke slightly.
- Return the pan to low heat and gently boil for about couple minutes while stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Stir in the shallots, chili and ginger.
- Add the fish in the caramel sauce and sprinkle with black pepper.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
- Simmer for 30-45 minutes, turning the fish occasionally and carefully.
- Serve with rice.