Cá Khô (braised and caramelised catfish) is a typical side dish in a Vietnamese home-cooked meal. It is called Cá Khô To when the catfish is served or cooked in a clay pot.
This dish is usually eaten with steamed white rice and plenty of boiled vegetables to dunk in the braising sauce. It is traditionally served alongside the Cank Chua Ca Tre (Vietnamese sweet & sour catfish soup), its sister soup dish for a complete Vietnamese family meal.
In Vietnam, “Kho” refers to any protein that is braised and caramelised. There are many “Kho” dishes using pork, chicken, shrimp, tofu and beef. What gives the dish its beautiful brown finish is the caramelisation of sugar and braising cooking method. The caramel sauce is usually prepared ahead of time.
Ca Kho is usually cooked in a brown clay pot to retain heat and aid in the caramelising process. Typically, catfish is used, but any variety of fish steaks can be used as well. What makes catfish the top choice is its higher fat content which is great for braising, rendering it moist while still maintaining its shape during the cooking process.
Follow these simple steps below to make your own serving of Cá Khô To at home!
- 1 pound catfish filet
- 1 tbsp sea salt (to clean fish)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp (minced)
- 1 red chilli pepper (deseeded and minced)
- 2 small shallots (minced)
- 1 stalk scallions (minced)
- 2 tbsp of coconut sugar
- 1 green onion roughly chopped
- black pepper freshly ground
- 2 tbsp coconut sugar
- ½ cup of water
For Clay Pot
- 2 tbsp oil (olive or coconut)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 3 shallots (finely chopped)
- 2 stalks chopped green onion
- 1 thumb-sized ginger (minced)
- ¼ cup coconut water (optional)
- 2 tbsp thick dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 sliced red chili (optional)
Stage 1: Marinate the Fish
- Salt the fish filet and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Set it aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, add garlic, shallots, scallions, chilli pepper and fish sauce. Mix well.
- Next, add coconut sugar into the bowl and mix.
- Rinse the salt off the fish filets under running water. Then, add fish fillets into a bowl of marinade. Work marinate well into the fish. Then place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
Stage 2: Create Caramel
- In a small pot, add coconut sugar and water over medium-high heat. Gently nudge the pot until it boils.
- Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium and let the liquid simmer for 7-10 minutes. Continue jostling the pot around to prevent the caramel from sticking to the pot.
- Once the caramel is done, take the pot off the heat and set aside until the next stage.
Stage 3: Create Cha Kho To
- Put clay pot over medium-high heat and add oil.
- When the oil is sizzling hot, add garlic and shallots. Sauté until they turn brown.
- Layer the fish directly over shallots and garlic.
- Pour leftover fish marinade, soy sauce and coconut water until it covers the fish filets.
- Sprinkle chili pepper and ground black pepper and add caramel on top. Let sit and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. (uncover the pan to help the liquid reduce)
- After 15 minutes, flip the fish filets and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Looking for more Vietnamese fish dishes to try out at home? Here are a few recipes that might pique your interests:
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