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

I made this the other day. Very simple, very close to the one we have at home in Hanoi. But I didn't stir the fish. Depending on what kind you cook with, it may break up the meat to small chunks. Also, you can add 1 or 2 slice of galingale to the sauce. Galingale looks very much like ginger root, but it has brown/red dark colour.

Nolita_Food April 02, 2004

This is almost exactly how the Vietnamese make Ca Kho To, except they use a heavy covered clay pot, and they do not stir while cooking. The saucepan works almost as well. Make sure it is very heavy. It is essential to have good heat distribution or the fish will stick to the pan. Also make sure that all of the fish has at least partial contact with the caramel sauce while cooking.

Jim_Minh September 13, 2003