How many ways can you cook a chicken? Here is one more way. Chicken in caramel sauce. Normally, this is the sauce I cook catfish (Ca Kho To) in, but Bobby Chinn (Wild, Wild East) used it in one of his recipes to this chicken dish. It certainly adds plenty of flavors to the dish. In fact, this salty and sweet caramel fish sauce is also a base sauce commonly used to cook fish, prawn, pork, and even tofu in Vietnamese cuisine. Now that I have adapted this flavor booster to my chicken repertoire, I am planning to simmer my next tofu dish in this sweet and savory caramel sauce.
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
fresh ground black pepper
1 green chile, finely chopped
2-inches (5 cm) ginger, finely grated
2 pounds (900 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts, or chicken tenders), cut into 2-inches (5 cm) cubes
1 cup ( 200 g) packed brown sugar ( alternative: 1 1/3 brown sugar cane bars)
4 teaspoons fish sauce (alternative: substitute 2 tablespoons of soy sauce)
3 cups (750 ml) hot chicken broth or water
1 chile, cut in half (omit for kid-friendly recipe)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon black peppercorns (or ground black pepper)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 inch (2.5 cm) ginger, julienne into thin strips
Note: I also added:
1 small onion, julienne thinly
1 small knob of ginger, julienne thinly
Place all the marinade ingredients and the chicken in a mixing bowl. Mix well. Cover and marinate in the fridge for an hour (or overnight).
To make the caramel sauce:
Put the brown sugar in a medium pot over medium heat (lower the fire if the melted part starts to burn) and cook it slowly until sugar melts. (If you are using sugar cane bars, use a wooden mixing spoon to move the bars around constantly to help the bars melt quickly and to avoid burnt sugar. )
Once the sugar has melted and the color is little darker, turn the heat off to prevent overcooking caramel. Add fish sauce (at room temperature) into the caramel carefully, to avoid splatter. Pour 2 cups (500 ml) of hot stock or water to thin the caramel then, add the chili (optional) and the lime juice. The hot liquid will prevent the sugar from crystallizing, but if it does, just cook it longer until it dissolves. Reduce the heat and add the julienned ginger. If you want a little more heat, Chinn recommended adding 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp peppercorns.
Place a separate pan over a medium-high heat, when the pan gets hot (able to feel the heat rises as your hand hover over it) add the vegetable oil. Wait for 15 seconds and add the julienned onions. Cook and stir for 4 minutes. To the onion, add in the Julienned ginger, saute for an additional 2 minutes. Add the marinated chicken mixture to the saucepan, keep stirring to prevent burning for 2 minutes. This quick stir fry helps caramelize the chicken.
Transfer the chicken mixture from pan to the pot with caramel sauce and deglaze the pan with the remaining stocks. Pour all these juice to the pot. (Chinn suggested using claypot and add the chicken, the deglazed juice, and the caramel sauce to it) Simmer the chicken until the liquid is reduced by 1/4 to 1/2 (to your desired sauce consistency – more liquidy or more syrupy).
Garnish with cilantro and scallions, and serve with rice.