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Fish Braised in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho)

>> Thursday, October 12, 2006

This dish is one of my favourite back home. It is also a very popular in Vietnamese kitchen. You can easily find different versions all along the country – northern, southern or central Vietnam. Each region has its own distinct flavour added. While the flavour of the Northern version is well-balanced, some chili is added in the Central version. And in the South, the dish is somewhat sweeter. They are all yummy, and I don’t mind tasting all of them!

This dish also has a lot of variations based on the type of fish you have. The most popular choice is fresh water fish, and the “fatter” the fish, the tastier the dish. You can also use salt water fish, but in this case, add more spices to encounter the strong fishy smell. Some Vietnamese home chef also replaced some water with brewed green tea when using salt water fish. Still, another mouthwatering version which my nanny used to make all the time is to use fresh coconut juice. As I am writing this up, I remember my grandmother sometimes lie a layer of chopped sugar cane before adding the fish. The natural sweetness of coconut juice or sugar cane surely adds a light and delicate touch to this well-known dish.

You can also add some pork to the fish. If doing so, choose the piece of meat with some fat attached. I personally don’t fancy this version, but it is all up to your personal taste!

Below is the basic recipe for Ca Kho. 

Caramel Sauce
What you need:
  1. 100-125 ml of water
  2. 40-50 gram of sugar (use brown sugar for a darker sauce)
What to do
  1. Over low heat, melt sugar in a small sauce pan (Use your cheapest saucepan you have, please!). Stir constantly until the sugar is a little burnt with some smoke. Slowly add the water (you may not use all). Be careful not to burn yourself.
  2. Continue to boil the mixture over medium heat until all the sugar is diluted and you have a nice brown sauce. Dilute with more water if necessary.
The Dish
  1. One whole fish of your choice (about 800-900 grams), cut into steaks. In Australia, I normally use Rainbow Trout (whole) or Red Salmon Cutlets/Fillets.
  2. 5 cm fresh galangal root, bruised (No need to peel). I sometimes substitute galangal with 2-3 pieces of lemon grass, use white part only.
  3. 3 cm fresh ginger peeled and sliced.
  4. 2 tablespoon of fish sauce, Vietnamese style preferred
  5. Caramel Sauce (above)
  6. 2 teaspoons of white vinegar
  7. 1-2 tablespoons of oil (use sesame oil for a more flavourful dish)
  8. Some water (or coconut juice)
  9. Ground white pepper
  10. 1-2 chilies, if you want the dish to be a little spicy
  11. Salt and extra sugar, to taste
  1. Even if your fish is already cleaned, still rinse it with some white vinegar diluted with water. This helps to remove the sticky texture on the fish skin, and reduce the smell too. You can also use some cold brewed tea for this.
  2. Place the fish steaks, galangal (or lemon grass), ginger, chili, pepper in a heavy base sauce pan. Pour the caramel sauce over. Add water just enough to cover the fish.
  3. Add fish sauce, white vinegar and the oil. (I use vinegar since my grandmother said vinegar will prevent the flesh from falling apart while braising).
  4. Bring the mixture to boil, then, reduce the heat. Braise the fish at low heat, covered for at least 30 mins. You may need to turn the fish cutlet once or twice so all of them are well coated with the simmer sauce. If the sauce is dried out, add little water. The longer you braise the fish, the tender it becomes. I like to braise my fish long enough so that the bone becomes very soft, you can just chew it.
  5. When the fish is nearly cooked to your liking, increase the heat to reduce the sauce. It should not be too watery or dry. Check the seasoning. The flavour should be well-balanced.
  6. Dish out, sprinkle with some extra ground white pepper. Don’t forget the sauce. It is delicious with steamed jasmine rice.
  1. Replace galangal with some lemon grass
  2. When using salt water fish, replace some of the water with brewed green tea.
  3. For a tastier dish, use fresh coconut juice in place of water
  4. To use the natural sweetness of sugar cane, lay some chopped & peeled fresh sugar cane in the saucepan before adding the fish & sauce. In this case, make sure that you use a heavy base sauce pan. Be careful not to burn the sugar cane.
  5. If using cat fish, add 100-200 of preserved mustard greens, chopped into bite size.


Christine,  6:39 AM  

Anh- I should've looked here before posting my bit on simmered catfish. The use of galangal is a very nice variation indeed.

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