Vietnamese Fish in Caramel Sauce

Vietnamese cuisine seafood salad and soup icon served with crispy lamb, chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms, beef noodles, mango salad, spinach salad with shrimps, eggplant stew, nuoc leo peanut dipping sauce

The Vietnamese love sweet and sour sauces and a caramel sauce offers both. It always seems unusual to have sweet sugary like syrup but this works well with particular types of fish. It’s common to see catfish used this way but seabass and other firm-fleshed fish work equally well.

The fish used is often cooked whole or as large slices of cross-cut fillets as these hold together well during cooking. The fish is ideal when served over steamed rice.

You will also see caramel sauce turbo-charging prawns and shrimps, chicken and pork too. There is a recipe using chicken wings that benefits from caramel.



  • 700g/ 1½ lbs catfish fillets or fish steaks cut into thick slices. Basu is an alternative in this recipe.
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil – sunflower
  • thumb sized piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 chili – deseeded, chopped
  • Handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves as garnish

Caramel Sauce

  • 135g/ 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 125ml/½cup  fish sauce
  • 8 shallots – thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 


  1. The Caramel sauce is prepared by heating the sugar in a skillet or small saucepan on low heat, stirring constantly. Keep doing this until it melts and caramelize, after 3 to 5 minutes. It should form a nice thick syrup. Add the shallots, black pepper and chili.
  2. Transfer this caramel sauce dressing to a bowl and keep aside.
  3. Heat a frying pan with oil in it.  Add the grated ginger. Add the catfish fillets and fry gently for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the caramel sauce along with any ginger. Simmer for about 5 minutes to cook the fish in the minimal amount of water
  5. Place the coated fillets on a dish once the fish is properly cooked and garnish with coriander leaves.
  6. Serve on hot steamed rice
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