Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Cá Kho" (Vietnamese Braised Fish with Caramel)


I've eaten this dish many many many times growing up. My grandma used to make a jar of caramel for these types of braising. The sad thing is that I never did learn to make it from my grandma and now I never will. Even though I walk around telling people that I'm so Vietnamese and speak with authority over everything Vietnamese, I know next to nothing when it comes to Vietnamese cooking. One of my goals is to at least learn to make the basic food so that it's not so embarrassing when the only advice I have for people regarding Vietnamese food is "Add a ton of lemon grass and a ton of fish sauce!"

Before I proceed, I have a few disclaimers and notes:

1. Why the hell is "Cá Kho" in quotes? Because people usually braise it floating in a bit more liquid and I like mine a bit thicker. Also, see point #2.

2. I have never made this dish before nor have I attempt to learn it. This is my first try just to see if I can replicate the same taste because I had a major craving for it.

3. It's usually cooked in a clay pot. I don't have a clay pot. Clay pots are supposed to give it amazing flavors.

4. Just a little note: means fish and kho means braise.

5. It can be made with all types of white fish, the most popular choice being catfish because they're fatty.

I drew a picture of a fatty catfish for your reference.

Just kidding!

Let's start, shall we?

Three tablespoons of sugar in a pan on medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to that and stir around until the sugar are melted and caramelized.

Somewhere along the line, peel and cut about 1" knob of ginger into matchsticks. Turn the heat down to medium, add the ginger to the caramel and stir around for about 30 seconds.

Like this! This is the perfect time to drop in about 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Stir that around, too.

Because I was too lazy to get catfish and also too lazy to deal with fish bones, I used 2 swai fish fillets. They were cut into halves to make it easier for flipping.

Turn heat back to medium high. Add the fish in and flip it a couple of times to make sure all pieces are coated with caramel.

Throw in a generous amount of ground black pepper or coarsely cracked peppercorns. I prefer the latter. Cover and let each side of the fish cook for 7 minutes on each side.

Some people even prefer the fish to be coated and encrusted with pepper. The subtle warmth of the pepper makes for a very good meal on a cold, rainy day if you ask me.

That's it! Serve with rice. You can drench the rice in the braising liquid for maximum tastiness.

I'm weird and I like to eat it with no rice and some broccoli. Since I had no rice, I cooked some kale in the braising liquid because I don't waste tasty caramelized-ginger-fish-sauce!

I made it into a nice lunch, too!

Ca Kho
Printable recipe


2 swai fillets, cut in half
1" knob of ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
ground black pepper


Melt the sugar and oil in a pan on medium high heat. Lower heat to medium or lower, be careful not to burn the sugar.

Add ginger and stir for 30 seconds.

Add fish sauce.

Turn heat back to medium high. Add the fillets and flip a couple of times to evenly coat each piece with the caramel.

Sprinkle on a generous amount of ground black pepper.

Cover and cook each side of the fillets for 7 minutes.


  1. This recipe is so simple, it blows my mind.

  2. We're making this for supper tonight! It smells so good, but I'm disappointed that we don't have any real ginger, just powder. Hope it still works out.

  3. This is my favorite food blog and this is why!