Albany Times Union
Caramel sauce is savory, sweet
Classic Vietnamese technique contrasts flavors and textures
Cooking in Southeast Asia often means incorporating a riot of contrasting flavors and textures, and the classic Vietnamese technique of simmering meat or fish in dark, bittersweet caramel is a great example of this.
As we were taught by chef Peter Franklin, owner of the Anan Saigon restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, we cook chicken thighs in the sauce until it forms a glaze. Mixing the caramel with fish sauce and a few aromatics yields rich, wonderfully complex savory-sweet flavors. And the technique, which is in our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” could hardly be simpler.
Instead of a traditional clay pot, we use a 12-inch skillet to make our version. Using coconut water as the cooking liquid adds a subtle, salty-sweet richness that brings even more complexity to the dish.
A generous amount of ginger, cut into matchsticks, mellows and softens as it cooks, and adds a brightness that perks up the deeper flavors. Bruising the lemon grass releases its flavor and fragrance.
Be sure to have the fish sauce measured out so that when the caramel turns mahogany, it can be added immediately to stop the cooking. Serve the chicken with steamed jasmine rice.