Here's a simple but delicious recipe for a classic Vietnamese fish braised in caramel sauce.
Ca kho to is a traditional home-style Vietnamese fish dish – a true local comfort food stewed in a clay pot with dark caramel sauce.
I tried a version in Saigon with some fatty pork strips and the extra richness and flavour profile this gave it just blew me away.
A regular American Vietnamese guest at the resort swears by our version because it brings back memories of his childhood.
It's so simple, and for Western tastes, yes, the fish is overcooked.
The savoury caramel based 'kho' dishes are a Vietnamese menu favourite, and the lengthy cooking is done to infuse the caramel colour and taste right through the fish.
Of course it's possible to cook the dish, reduce the sauce and cook the fish to "Western standards" as you prefer.
This dish can also be done with catfish or snakehead fish, normally left on the bone in cutlets. Mackerel is more meaty.
This recipe is the 'proper' method to use if you have half an hour to cook the dish. Other methods are to have the caramel sauce pre-made, or to have the stew cooked in the afternoon and re-heated to order in the clay pot. Enjoy this dish, and please let me know what you think when you make it yourself.
Ca kho to recipe
Ingredients – makes one claypot for 1-2 people
180g mackerel fillet with skin
80g pork belly pieces
5ml Phu Quoc fish sauce
30g Demerara sugar or raw sugar
150ml pork stock
5g large red chilli
20g large spring onion, white part only, cut 2cm long
Seasoning to marinate mackerel and pork
pork powder (Knorr, Ajinomoto etc)
Phu Quoc black pepper
Ca kho to cooking method
- Cut mackerel fillet into 4 x 45g pieces, each about 2cm thick
- Cut pork belly into ‘lardons’ (small batons) 1cm x 3cm
- Season mackerel and pork belly with pork flavor granules, sugar and freshly crushed black pepper
- Add fish sauce in clay pot over medium heat and add 1 heaped tablespoon (30g) brown sugar
- Stir well until the sugar is caramelised to brown colour
- Add pork belly to clay pot and stir well until nicely coloured
- Add mackerel, chilli and spring onion
- Add pork stock and simmer 30 minutes. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary
- Serve in the clay pot with steam rice.