Vietnamese Fish Simmered in Caramel Sauce (Ca Kho To)

Total Time
Prep 5 mins
Cook 45 mins

This is one of my favorite dishes at a local Vietnamese restaurant. I searched around the internet for the recipe and this is what a came up with. I just made this tonight and am quite surprised how close it taste to the restaurant version. It is normally made in a clay pot but a 2-quart saucepan will suffice. Beware, fish sauce is a very pungent ingredient.

Ingredients Nutrition


  1. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, cook the sugar over low to medium heat, swirling the pan constantly, until brown and caramelized.
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir the fish sauce into the caramel.
  3. It will smoke slightly.
  4. Return the pan to low heat and gently boil for about couple minutes while stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Stir in the shallots, chili and ginger.
  6. Add the fish in the caramel sauce and sprinkle with black pepper.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
  9. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, turning the fish occasionally and carefully.
  10. Serve with rice.
Most Helpful

This is a favorite with my family everytime we go back to vietnam, so i can vouch for the authenticity of my tips: **for authentic "ca kho to", try leaving out the ginger, and when the pot comes to a boil, before simmering, add coconut juice (not coconut milk), just enough to cover the fish filets, which should be with the bone in, cross-sections, instead of traditional filets found in the west--if possible. then bring everything, including coconut juice, to a boil, then simmer until the sauce is reduced and the flavor is to your liking. without the coconut juice, it's just basic "ca kho"--still fantastic, mind you...**try this variation for a different "ca kho"...add garlic and finely diced fresh tomatoes to the shallots and chilli (still no ginger), and if possible, use sardines (like the kind found in mediterranean cuisine). this is also a fabulous version of "ca kho".

multi-cultural foodie August 17, 2005

So I used fresh caught catfish, cut it up into chunks, left out the ginger, substituted fresh chili (didn't want to buy a bunch) for 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes, only used ~1/8c. of fish sauce (Three Crabs Brand) and added 1 can (17.5 oz) of coconut juice. Simmered for 30 mins with lid on, took the catfish out and put it in a bowl with some sauce and wrapped clear wrap to keep warm/moist. Turned up the heat to medium to reduce the sauce for about 15 mins lid off, but then realized it was too salty. Added about 1/2c. water back and added some dissolved cornstarch to thicken the sauce up. Pretty tasty for first attempt. I did turn the fish a few times while cooking and basted it with the sauce from time to time to keep from drying. Next time I will sear the fish first before braising, only braise for 20mins with lid on, then reduce for an additional 10 mins lid off and add dissolved cornstarch at the end to thicken sauce. Made all this in my smaller dutch oven over stove.

Dianne L. June 22, 2016