Last year Tyler got a recipe book for Christmas, and part of his gift was to pick new recipes for us to try weekly. One of these recipes was for Vietnamese Caramel Fish. This recipe has such a delicious flavor, a unique sauce, and the fish was done to literal perfection. Even our four kids LOVED this dinner! For instance, the sauce was made with coconut water and sugar, creating the base as deeply sweet and then the pop of flavor was added with fish sauce and fresh herbs.
Published October 27, 2021
Updated March 21, 2022
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What to expect with this Vietnamese Caramel Fish?
Cooking fresh cod fillets in a caramel sauce was so new to me! I had never cooked fish, or meat for that matter, in anything sweet and was seriously stressing that this meal would then turn out well. Typically, meat is prepared to be savory, so this was an exciting new recipe to try! Turns out, the fish remained incredibly moist while being flaky when done. I highly recommend this recipe, as it was relatively inexpensive to make and unbelievably delicious.
With this dinner we also had steamed vegetables and roasted red potatoes. I used these sides because I didn’t want to over-power the tastes of the fish. This being the first time we were eating this Vietnamese Caramel Fish; I really wanted the flavor of the sauce to shine.
One thing that was omitted was the cilantro at the end for garnish and flavor. Tyler and I both do not like the taste, so I did not even add it to our grocery list. If you love cilantro, I recommend adding it!
The Complete Milk Street Cookbook
I want to be honest when I say that this amazingness was not my creation. All credit goes to Christopher Kimball and the Milk Street team. This cookbook has recipes from their TV show from 2017-2019. We have yet to taste a recipe from this book that was not fantastic.
If you don’t have this cookbook, get it! Seriously. The recipes are quick, easy, from scratch recipes and really delicious. The recipe for Vietnamese Caramel Fish is on page 254-255 of the Milk Street Cookbook.
**Milk Street is not a sponsor of this post!**
Vietnamese Caramel Fish Recipe
Ingredients for Vietnamese Caramel Fish
1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup coconut water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 1/2-inch-thick fresh ginger
Four 2-inch lime zest strips
Four 5- to 6-ounce cod fillets
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)
1 jalapeno or serrano chili
Directions for Vietnamese Caramel Fish
1. In a large saucepan, or Dutch oven, bring 1 Tablespoon of the coconut water and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil. Stir this occasionally until the edges of the mixture begin to color.
Do not let it over-cook! I used a large pan with tall sides this time and not a Dutch oven.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir often, until the mixture reaches the color of mahogany; around 1-3 minutes. To be frank, this step really did end up messing me up as I had never actually created a caramel sauce using coconut water before. I did have to scrap the first batch as it literally crystalized and was no longer a “sauce”.
The second and third batches did go better, but not a total win. Making this caramel out of coconut water and granulated sugar will be a learning curve for sure.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and then add 3 Tablespoons fish sauce. Whisk until smooth. This will bubble and steam! So be sure to really remove the pan and add the sauce NOT on the heat. Really, you want to keep your eyebrows and arm hair, right?!
Just be careful when using the fish sauce as it is pretty potent smelling and kids can be often turned off at first when they first smell it added to a recipe.
4. Add the rest of the coconut water, 1/2 cup, and whisk until fully combined. Do not use coconut milk, if you cannot get coconut water use plain water instead.
5. On a cutting board, cut the ginger in half, then using the flat side of your chef knife, smash it with the palm of your hand, keeping your fingers up and away from the sharp edge.
Then, thinly slice the shallots.
Use a vegetable peeler and peel four strips of zest off of a lime. Add the ginger, shallots and lime zest to the liquids and then simmer over low heat for 5 minutes allowing these three ingredients add such a depth of flavor to the sauce!
6. Season the cod with pepper. Then place it into the pot and simmer for 3 minutes.
Make sure that when you cook this recipe that the cod is fully thawed, cooking while the cod is frozen will not work with this recipe.
7. Using two spatulas, gently flip the cod and then cook on simmering 3 to 5 more minutes.
8. When done, transfer the cooked fish to a serving plate.
9. Remove the pieces of ginger and zest from the sauce, then drizzle remaining sauce over the meat.
10. Finally, serve the Caramel Fish with fish sauce, chili and cilantro. Enjoy!
Was it a win?
This recipe will be on our top 20 most liked of all times and resulted in absolutely NO leftover fish for Tyler for lunch at work the next day. Poor guy! Our three boys completely loved this fish recipe. We could not believe how the sweet flavors really went into the fish in flavor and stayed so flaky without being too dry.
All in all, this Vietnamese Caramel Fish recipe was easy to follow and resulted in a full-flavored meal.
When cleanup was happening, after dinner, we realized that the serrano chili was never cut and used for this recipe. I was so bummed! When the meal was ready to be plated, diced serrano, or jalapeno peppers, were to garnish the fish along with cilantro if that is your style. I just completely forgot to slice them and use them. Oh well… maybe next time!
Recipe for Vietnamese Caramel Fish
Vietnamese Caramel Fish Recipe that Everyone will Love
- Dutch Oven OR Large Saucepan
- 2 Spatulas
- 1/2 cup Coconut Water PLUS 1 Tbsp
- 1/4 cup White Sugar
- 3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
- 1/2 cup Shallots sliced thin
- 1 1/2 inch Fresh Ginger
- 4 2-inch Lime Zest Strips
- 4 5-6 oz Cod Filets thawed
- Black Pepper
- 1/4 cup Cilantro optional
- 1 Jalapeno OR Serrano Chili optional
- In a large saucepan, or Dutch oven, bring 1 Tablespoon of the coconut water and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil.
- Stir this occasionally until the edges of the mixture begin to color. Just be sure to not let it over-cook!
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir often, until the mixture reaches the color of mahogany for around 1-3 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add 3 Tablespoons fish sauce.
- Whisk until smooth, this mixture will bubble and steam!
- Add the rest of the coconut water, 1/2 cup, and whisk until fully combined.
- To the saucepan, add the ginger, shallots and lime zest to the liquids and then simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Season the cod with pepper and then place it into the pot and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Gently flip the cod with two spatulas and then cook on simmering 3 to 5 more minutes.
- When done, transfer the cooked fish to a serving plate.
- Remove the pieces of ginger and zest from the sauce, then drizzle remaining sauce over the meat.
- Finally, plate the Vietnamese Caramel Fish and serve with fish sauce, chili and cilantro.
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