Vietnamese caramel chicken, called ga kho, is easy to make at home with fish sauce, palm sugar, chicken, ginger, and black pepper. The recipe is authentic as it gets and comes from The Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco.
This lovely little Asian number comes from the iconic Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, where it’s been on the menu since opening day. Vietnamese caramel chicken is traditionally made with bone-in chicken, but this recipe relies on boneless, skinless dark meat to save time and fuss. The recipe couldn’t be simpler—especially when you toss together a batch of the savory caramel sauce ahead of time and stash it in the fridge for crazy or lazy weeknights.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Something Smells Fishy Note
Full disclaimer. Fish sauce smells something terrible straight out of the bottle—and even worse when it’s subjected to heat. So don’t say we didn’t warn you to fling open the windows and crank the exhaust before you even think about making this stinky yet savory caramel sauce. That said, the end definitely justifies the means in this situation. Especially when you make a big batch of the Vietnamese caramel sauce—the way we see it, while you’re stinking up the house, you may as well REALLY stink it up so the results of your efforts linger. Simply stash any extra sauce in the fridge so you can satisfy weeknight cravings for this aramel chicken in just 25 minutes. You’re welcome.
Special Equipment: Claypot (optional)
Vietnamese Caramel Chicken
- Quick Glance
- 25 M
- 1 H
- Serves 2
- For the Vietnamese caramel sauce
- 1 pound (454 g) Asian palm sugar*, coarsely chopped
- 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) fish sauce (we prefer Three Crabs brand but any fish sauce in a glass, as opposed to plastic, bottle is preferable)
- For the Vietnamese caramel chicken
- 12 ounces (340 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4), trimmed
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) mild olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1-inch (25-mm) piece fresh ginger (about 10 g), peeled and julienned
- 2 medium shallots about 2 1/2 ounces or 70 g), thinly sliced lengthwise into rings
- 1 to 2 Thai or serrano chile peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded, if desired
- Cilantro leaves and stems, chopped, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Steamed jasmine rice, for serving
- Make the Vietnamese caramel sauce
- 1. Dump the palm sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and wait until the sugar sorta melts, which can take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes. (If substituting light brown sugar for the palm sugar, you’ll need to add a tablespoon or two cold water to the sugar before you place it over the heat and stir almost constantly as it melts.) Palm sugar is still a touch grainy even when it melts and that’s okay. It may smoke ever so slightly, and that’s okay. If the sugar appears to seize or scorch, though, lower the heat and go ahead and stir it.
- 2. Meanwhile, measure your fish sauce and have it at the ready.
- 3. When the sugar melts, turn off the heat under the sugar and slowly and carefully stir in the fish sauce, taking care as it may bubble and spatter. If the sugar seizes into clumps, simply return the pan to low heat and stir until everything melts once again. Let cool. The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
- Make the Vietnamese caramel chicken
- 4. Cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces.
- 5. In a 10-inch claypot or sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the ginger and shallots and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chiles, chicken, and 1/4 cup caramel sauce. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, stirring or turning the chicken occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling, a shade darker, and thicker and stickier, 10 to 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and gobs of black pepper. Serve immediately with steamed rice.
What Is Palm Sugar?
- The kind of palm sugar that you want—and need—for this claypot chicken recipe typically comes in a hard disk of palm sugar shrink-wrapped in plastic or tightly packed in a clear plastic jar. The palm sugar looks sorta like sand after the tide has gone out and left it drenched and packed down. It is sometimes labeled coconut sugar. You can also use Indian jaggery. Do not substitute granulated organic coconut palm sugar found at health food stores or your attempt at melting it will be a spectacularly epic fail resulting in the possible destruction of your saucepan. Trust us. Asian palm sugar has a higher moisture content which enables it to behave more collegially as it melts than the health food stuff.