Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken – juicy chicken bites glazed in a Vietnamese caramel sauce with a good dose of ginger. 5 ingredients. 12 minute braise. Serve over jasmine rice with Asian Slaw for a dinner everybody will gobble up!
Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken
When you see today’s recipe, you’re going to doubt me. How can a recipe with so few ingredients that’s so fast to make be as good as I promise??
Answer: Because the Vietnamese have been making this for centuries!
The caramelisation cooking method used in today’s recipe is a traditional Vietnamese technique. Proteins such as chicken, pork, egg and sometimes vegetables are braised in a simple mixture of sugar and water (or coconut juice), seasoned with fish sauce and flavoured with aromatics such as ginger, garlic and chilli.
At first the mixture looks thoroughly unimpressive – watery and foamy. Like this:
But just give it a mere 12 minutes, and this is what it looks like:
I know, right?? Incredible. We should know better than to doubt the Vietnamese!
And here’s a nice close up for you, including the inside – proof of juiciness:
Vietnamese caramel this-and-that
Vietnamese caramel sauce is not new to these parts! Long time astute readers may recognise this as similar to a sticky Vietnamese Coconut Caramel Chicken that I shared many years ago. That is made with whole bone-in chicken thighs and takes around an hour to make. Also, other members of the Vietnamese Caramel Family – fan favourite Vietnamese Caramelised Pork Bowls (quick) and slow-cooked Vietnamese Caramel Pork (juicy bites!)
Today’s recipe might be my favourite, for it’s speed and the lovely pops of ginger flavour.
What you need for Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken
Here’s all you need to make today’s miracle dish:
Boneless chicken thighs – Thighs work best because they will stay juicier for the required simmer time for the sauce to reduce down into a glaze. But if you want to make this with chicken breast, I’ve popped directions in the recipe notes – best to take it out of the pan partway so it doesn’t overcook.
Brown sugar – This is what makes the caramel glaze! Brown rather than white sugar, for extra caramely flavour.
Fish sauce – The “secret ingredient” that gives the sauce more depth of flavour than just using salt or soy sauce. You can substitute with soy sauce, but the glaze won’t have quite the same flavour.
Ginger – We use quite a lot, for lovely gingery flavour! 1/3 cup finely julienned.
Garlic could be substituted.
Chilli (optional) – For a faint background hum of warmth. I use Birds Eye but Thai chilli or other chilli of choice would be fine. This dish is not spicy by any means, the spiciness of a single chilli is reduced through the cooking process and overpowered by the sweetness.
Eschalots (optional) –Also known as French onions, and called “shallots” in the US. They look like baby onions, but are finer and sweeter than regular onions so they disappear into the glaze better.
Not to be confused with what some people in Australia call “shallots” ie the long green onions. Substitute with finely sliced red or regular onions, or skip it. It’s not so common in traditional Vietnamese caramel dishes but it does add extra flavour (I tried with and without).
How to make Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken
Very easy, low maintenance and quick! No marinating required, and just a 12 minute braise.
Toss the chicken in the fish sauce and chilli (if using). Then just set aside while you prepare and measure out the other ingredients. Marinating isn’t required – plenty of flavour infusion into the chicken happens during the braise. But you could leave it overnight, if you wanted to.
Use a large non-stick pan else the liquid will take ages to reduce. Mine is 30cm/12″. If yours is smaller or the liquid is taking way too long to reduce down into a glaze, remove chicken with slotted spoon and reduce the liquid by itself (it will be fast).
Caramel – Put the oil and sugar in a pan over medium heat and stir.
Melt – As the pan heats up, the sugar will melt and form a caramel. As soon as it has melted, take the pan off the stove before adding the chicken. ⚠️ This is a precaution step – because the caramel does sizzle a bit when you add the chicken. If your stove runs very hot or you’re a little…..err…. overly enthusiastic when tossing the chicken in, I’d hate for caramel bits to splash on you. By taking it off the stove, we don’t need to worry.
Chicken -Slide the chicken in carefully (don’t throw it in!), eschalots and ginger. Toss briefly to coat, then return to the stove. The caramel may harden but that’s ok, it will re-melt on the stove.
Cook – Stir the chicken until it changes from pink to white but the inside will still be raw. Add water then let it come up to the simmer.
Braise 10 to 12 minutes – Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until the sauce reduces down into a brown glaze that coats the chicken. This is what it looks like at the start – not very appetising! It’s very low maintenance – just stir every couple of minutes.
Midway – Here it is halfway through. You can see the chicken is starting to be stained by the sauce colour. What you can’t see is all the lovely flavour being absorbed by the chicken! 🙂
Glaze! Then after 10 to 12 minutes, this is what it looks like. The liquid will have reduced right down and transformed into brown stick glaze that coats the chicken. At this stage, you will want to stir quite regularly to ensure the sauce doesn’t catch and burn on the base of the pot. Just reduce the heat it you’re concerned.
And that’s it! It’s ready to eat!
What to serve with Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken
Serve over jasmine rice or other plain rice of choice (or cauliflower rice if you’re going the low-carb thing). It’s not a sauce stir fry but you definitely won’t miss the sauce because the glaze is more intense flavoured than a typical saucy stir fry. So you can eat it with plain rice because every rice grain the chicken touches will be graced with the tasty Vietnamese caramel sauce!
For a lovely fresh side salad, I’d suggest a crunchy fresh Asian Slaw. Else, my ever-trusty Smashed Cucumbers (perfect juicy freshness to contrast with this sticky goodness) or Asian Sesame Dressing which you can use for “anything” – leafy greens, steamed broccoli or carrots.
Enjoy! – Nagi x
Recipe credit: Adapted from Eat Like a Viet cookbook by Jenny Lam, after eating this at PhatLon, her Vietnamese restaurant in Perth! I dialled down the saltiness (fish sauce) and added eschalots because I think they make it even tastier.
Watch how to make it
Vietnamese Caramel Ginger Chicken
- 1 kg / 2 lb skinless chicken thigh fillets , cut into large 5cm/2″ pieces (Note 1)
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 bird’s eye chilli or Thai chilli , deseeded, finely minced (optional) – Note 2
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup brown sugar , tightly packed
- 1/3 cup ginger , finely julienned (about 5 cm/2″ thick piece)
- 2 eschallots , halved then finely sliced (sub half red onion) (Note 3)
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- Toss chicken with fish sauce and chilli, then set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. You could marinate even overnight but it's not necessary.
- Pan size – Use a large non-stick pan (mine is 30cm/12", must be large). Else, be prepared to remove chicken at end to speed up sauce reduction. See Note 4!
- Caramel – Mix oil and sugar in the cold pan, then turn onto medium high heat. As soon as the sugar is melted, remove the pan from the stove then carefully add the chicken (⚠️ it will sizzle so don't throw it in!) . Add ginger and shallots, toss briefly. The caramel may harden, that's ok, it will re-melt.
- Cook outside of chicken – Then put the pan back on the stove and stir just until the chicken changes from pink to white all over, but not browned, and definitely not cooked through.
- Simmer 10 min – Add water, stir, bring to a simmer. Simmer very rapidly, still on medium high (or even high!), for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid reduces right down to a glaze. It might take longer if your pan is smaller or your stove is weaker, that's ok. Stir every now and then while watery, then once it's reduced down to a glaze, toss regularly to get nice colour on the chicken. The further you take it, the better the colour!
1. Chicken – I cut most into 4, some into 3. You want them quite large so they don’t dry out during the required simmer time. Breast – not recommended, it will dry out by the time the sauce reduces. However, if you want to use breast, I’d probably use the whole breast (2), split in half (to make 4 thin steaks), start the cook in the caramel, take them out, let the sauce reduce to a glaze then coat. Bit risky to get timing right without overcooking. 2. Chilli – optional, adds the tiniest background hint of heat (longer you cook fresh chilli, less spicy it is, also the sweet dominates here). 3. Eschalots –Also known as French onions, and called “shallots” in the US. Look like baby onions, but have purple-skinned flesh, are finer and sweeter, so they disappear into the glaze better than regular onions. Not to be confused with what some people in Australia call “shallots” ie the long green onions. Sub with finely sliced red or regular onions. 4. PAN / sauce reduction / caramelisation – You need a large pan (30cm/12″+) so the chicken isn’t crowded else the liquid takes AGES to reduce. Also, be brave and simmer super rapidly so the liquid reduces faster, and once it’s reduced down to a sticky glaze, stir the chicken in the oil left in the pan to get the nice caramelisation on it. If you’re pan is too small, remove chicken after 12 minutes using slotted spoon and reduce liquid down to glaze (fast, without chicken). then toss chicken back in. 5. Leftovers will keep for 3 days in the fridge. Freezing – haven’t tried but I see no reason why it wouldn’t freeze perfectly well! Nutrition per serving, chicken only (no rice).
Life of Dozer
Dozer’s way of sulking about being on a strict gastro-intestinal dog food diet for the next 7 days – spitting his food out on the ground. Seriously. What a brat! (Mind you, his natural greediness means he ends up hoovering the floor clean. But still. The attitude!)