Chicken in Fish Sauce Caramel

To the uninitiated , Fish Sauce Caramel sounds like a 10-year old’s gross-out joke. It’s not. This Vietnamese sauce is one of the truly amazing flavor combinations  of the culinary world. Funky, sweet, rich, and satisfying, it has more in common with sweet soy sauce than ice cream toppings. In this dish, it elevates simple chicken thighs to something luscious and amazing.


Traditional fish sauce caramel is made by slowly caramelizing sugar  and adding spices and seasonings to make a syrup that can be used as a cooking base or condiment. Here, we shall take a shortcut that – while not providing exactly the same results – give us much of the flavor in drastically less time.

Chicken in Fish Sauce Caramel with Herb and Cucumber Salad

Recipe by DrewCourse: MainCuisine: VietnameseDifficulty: Medium


Prep time


Cooking time


Salad Prep


Total time






  • Chicken in Fish Sauce Caramel
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

  • 1 cup chicken stock

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar, divided

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

  • 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

  • 1 piece star anise

  • ½ tsp chili flake

  • 1 tsp kosher salt

  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • Herb and Cucumber Salad
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

  • 1 shallot, sliced

  • Juice of ½ lime

  • 1 tsp fish sauce

  • 1 tsp granulated sugar

  • ¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves

  • 1 tsp chopped fresh mint

  • 2 tbsp chopped unsalted peanuts

  • 1 tsp red chili flake (opt)


  • Chicken
  • Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  • Season the chicken on both sides and, in an oven-proof pan, brown skin-side down. Turn the chicken skin-side up, remove from the heat and set aside
  • In a separate, dry pan, add two tbsp of granulated sugar, spreading the sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan.
  • Place the sugar over a medium flame. Do not stir or disturb.
  • The sugar will begin to melt and brown. When all the sugar is melted and has darkened to the color of dark tea, but has not yet begun to burn, add the chicken stock, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chili flake, remaining sugar, and star anise.
  • Bring to a simmer. Pour this mixture over the browned chicken thighs, and transfer to the oven to cook.
  • Once the chicken is cooked though – about an hour, remove it from the pan, strain the sauce through a mesh strainer, and discard the solids.
  • Return the sauce to the pan and reduce until thickened and slightly shiny.
  • Add the chicken back to the pan, skin-side up, and allow to warm though.
  • To serve, top with herb and cucumber salad (below) and serve with steamed jasmine rice.
  • Herb and Cucumber Salad
  • In a non-reactive bowl, mix lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add cucumber, mint, and cilantro, tossing to coat well. Add chili flake if using.Add chopped peanuts and serve atop chicken thighs in fish sauce caramel.

Be sure to check out my other food project, The Weekly Menu!

One Comment

  1. John Hagner

    This is potentially the best thing I’ve ever made myself and I have thought about it every day since I made it and you should make it too.

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