Braised trout in caramel sauce

Caramelized stewed trout

Caramel and trout? Whaaa?

Trust me, guys, it’s just a not-so-perfect translation.  Instead of a fish coated in achingly sweet ice cream topping, the caramel sauce in this dish is a delicious and balanced mixture of salty, sweet, spicy, with a slight and pleasant bitterness.

Braised trout in caramel sauce is ca kho to in Vietnamese. Kho is the Vietnamese word for a series of dishes revolving around braised meats in nuoc mau (“colored water,” or caramel sauce).  It’s a staple dish at the Vietnamese dinner table, usually served family-style with rice and two to three other dishes.

My family loves spicy foods, so this recipe calls for a high-number of chiles.  The chiles mellow out a bit over the long braising period and the pods are very palatable, though they still have bite.

An oily fish is recommended for this recipe, as the fat lends a lovely richness to the sauce. Traditionally, this recipe calls for a Vietnamese catfish, but they’re huge.  For smaller portions, I like using trout or mackerel.  It’s important to use steaks, with bones in and the skin still on (flavor!).  Additionally, this dish is traditionally cooked in a clay pot, which retains heat well.  A medium pan works well too, though.

Braised trout in caramel sauce
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Known as ca kho to in Vietnamese, this braised trout in caramel sauce is classic Vietnamese comfort food. Serve with white jasmine rice.
  • 1 whole trout (or 1-1.5 pounds of an oily fish, skin on), cut into steaks.
  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 tbsp cup fish sauce (nuoc mam in Vietnamese)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-8 red Thai chiles
  • 1-inch nub of ginger, julienned
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper
  1. Put sugar and half of the water in a medium pan or clay pot on high heat. Don't stir or touch. It will boil vigorously before the bubbles slow and start building on one another. After 5 minutes or so, it will begin turning brown, caramelizing. Take it off the heat when it's a deep golden brown color, like very weak coffee. Don't let it get espresso-dark!
  2. Add in the rest of the water, fish sauce, salt, and return it to the heat, turning it down to medium low heat.
  3. Add fish steaks to the caramel sauce. Top with onions, chiles, ginger, and pepper. Cover with a lid, cracking it open a little with a chopstick. Simmer for 20 minutes. Flip the steaks over. Simmer for another 20 minutes until sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  4. Serve with steaming white rice.

Psst, secret: The head is the best part.

Caramelized stewed trout

  • Hang

    Such a beautiful looking dish. I’ve always only had it with catfish, but I bet trout is even better! Would you typically garnish with sliced scallions or cilantro or just eat it like that?

  • FoodLover

    Super delish! When I added the fish sauce and water to the caramel it
    kinda smelled like cat food, but thankfully that faded. Even my mom
    loved it, although I had to hide the fact that she was eating a whole
    fish (she got squicked out by the head and the skin so I just served her
    some pieces without those, and I got to enjoy the heads).

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