Vietnamese Braise in Caramel Sauce (Thịt kho)
Basically you cook down sugar until it's nice and dark which gives a rich, deep flavor to the sauce. Pork and fish are most commonly used. For fish, my family likes salmon though catfish is traditional and what you usually find in restaurants. Pork belly is traditional for Vietnamese New Year though it is very fatty.
- Thịt kho - generally refers to chunks of pork
- Cá kho - fish
- Thịt băm - ground pork version
- 2-4 Tb sugar
- 1 lb pork belly or side pork, or Boston butt, cut into 1 inch cubes. For everyday home cooking ground pork can also be used though it turns out
pretty salty.. which is the point because then you can fill up on rice which is cheap. Plain sliced cucumber is good on the side for the ground pork. Or 1 lb fish.. steaks work better in a braise but I use filet too if that's what's on sale.
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2-4 garlic cloves, slivered
- 1-2 shallots slivered (or red onion or even regular onion if that's what you've got)
- 1-2 Tb peeled, slivered fresh ginger
- 1 cup fresh or frozen coconut water (not coconut milk, you want the coconut juice) or water or stock
- 2-4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled.. you can leave them whole or cut them in half or quarters, optional and used in the versions with the larger chunks of pork
1. Marinate the pork with garlic, shallot, ginger, and fish sauce. You can actually use any combo of garlic, shallot, and ginger depending on what you have on hand. If you're in a hurry, just let it sit for 10 minutes, if you have the time or were able to start this earlier you can leave this in the fridge for a few hours.
2. When it's cooking time, caramelize the sugar with a bit of water on medium to med-high until it's a nice deep brown. You don't need water since it evaporates anyway before the sugar caramelizes, I just add a bit so that the sugar heats up a bit more evenly. It will start to bubble, then the bubbles will look bigger, than it'll start to get amber in color. Let it get to a dark brown and it will look like molasses. Do not let it burn or the flavor will be off. If you cook with caramel sauce often, you can make a big batch. Then when it's done, stir in some water, maybe about 1/2 of the amount of sugar you used and stir until the caramel redissolves in the water (this is basically so that the sauce is pourable). Pour in a glass jar and then let cool. You can keep it at room temp pretty much indefinitely.
3. Drain the fish sauce from the marinated meat into the pot, stirring. It will sizzle and bubble. Add the coconut water or other liquid, then add the meat. It should barely or almost cover the meat, you can add more liquid if necessary. If using ground pork you won't need to add much liquid.
4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the eggs if using and cover. Let everything simmer for 30-45 minutes, more or less depending on what meat you use.
5. Remove the cover and continue simmering until the liquid reduces to about a third way or half or so. Add some sliced bird chiles if you want some spiciness.
6. Serve with rice. For the egg/pork version, I love mashing the egg and sauce into the rice.