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.
- 1 whole trout (or 1-1.5 pounds of an oily fish, skin on), cut into steaks.
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tbsp cup fish sauce (nuoc mam in Vietnamese)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 3-8 red Thai chiles
- 1-inch nub of ginger, julienned
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- 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!
- Add in the rest of the water, fish sauce, salt, and return it to the heat, turning it down to medium low heat.
- 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.
- Serve with steaming white rice.
Psst, secret: The head is the best part.