I’m not Vietnamese, but I do love me some Vietnamese food. When I came across this recipe, I thought, “What the hell is Vietnamese Caramel Chicken”???? Convinced that this recipe was just made up by the Cuisine for Two Magazine editors, I proceeded to do some research online. Surprise surprise, it does exist and there are many people out there who love this dish.
Anyway, the concept is simple: melt sugar to caramelize chicken. However, if you’ve never made caramel (which is basically melted sugar) before, then simple may not be the right word to describe this recipe. The first time I made caramel, it was to drizzle over my homemade sticky toffee pudding, and I failed miserably! The key is to melt the sugar on medium (or lower heat if the sugar starts looking lumpy) and wait for the sugar to slowly turn into the color of ice tea. This process takes about 5-7 minutes. I usually don’t like to stir my caramel until the very end; I swirl my pot instead. You can stir the caramel if you like, but make sure you don’t over stir, otherwise the sugar particles will just lump together instead of melting and liquifying.
Adapted from Cuisine for Two Magazine
(yields 2 servings)
3/4 cup dry jasmine rice
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (5oz each)
2 tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp. minced shallots
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup bias-sliced scallions
2 tbsp. torn basil leaves
1. Cook rice as instructed (I use a rice cooker)
2. Melt sugar in a saucepan on medium heat.
3. Combine fish sauce and chicken broth. After caramel forms (turns ice tea color), pour broth mixture and whisk, whisk, whisk! **When liquid is added to caramel, it will bubble furiously. Take off heat and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp. of canola oil in skillet/fry-pan on medium/medium-high heat. Sear chicken about 3 minutes per side. You just want a nice golden brown color to develop on the chicken – you are NOT cooking the chicken all the way through. Remove from pan.
5. Heat remaining tbsp. of canola oil. Add ginger, shallots and garlic into pan and saute for about a minute or two, or until shallots turn translucent.
6. Return chicken to the pan and pour in caramel sauce. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens.
7. Plate rice with chicken on top. Scatter scallions and basil on top of chicken and spoon sauce over chicken.
At first I was worried about the sauce being too sweet, but it came out just right. Having the chicken simmer in the sauce made the chicken incredibly flavorful! Now I know why so many people love this dish.