Comfort me with caramel: Chicken kho

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A few minutes and a splash of caramel sauce delivers a savory supper.

One of my favorite ripoffs of Vietnamese home cooking is a technique called kho. It’s comfort food, like an Irish lamb stew of a French coq au vin. In kho, proteins like chicken, tofu or catfish are stewed in a mixture of caramel sauce and fish sauce, with aromatics like ginger, scallions and shallots.

First, you need caramel sauce. Go here to learn how to make it. It can be a little touchy, but just remember that if you mess it up, you’re only out a cup of sugar. Once you get the hang of making caramel sauce, you’ll always have some in the cupboard – it keeps practically forever – and you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.


This particular night I had chicken thighs in the fridge, and some scallions. I would have liked ginger, but was out and wanted to feed the kids.

So here’s what I did:

Salt and peppered the chicken thighs. Browned them in a bit of vegetable oil. You want a pot or pan big enough for the chicken thighs (or other protein) to fit in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pot and get the chicken nicely crusted, and it’ll dissolve in the broth, adding depth to the flavor.

Then it’s simmering time. Add the aromatics, like a tablespoon or two of chopped ginger, two or three sliced garlic cloves, half a cup of scallions chopped in inch pieces, a quarter-cup of sliced shallots. This time, I used scallion and a sliced onion.

Add 1/4 cup of caramel sauce and a 1/8 cup of fish sauce. Then add enough water to barely cover the proteins, cover, and simmer over medium heat. After about 30 minutes, or until the chicken pulls apart easily, it’s ready.


Serve over rice with a ladle of sauce. Marvel at the wonder of it all.

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Filed under food, meat, poultry, recipes

2 responses to “Comfort me with caramel: Chicken kho

  1. That’s good stuff…the version I’ve made uses mostly fish sauce in the caramel, with a little bit of water. It tastes amazing, but I guess you’re restricted a little bit about what you do with it. Putting it over ice cream, for instance. Actually…hmm….

    Like that last photo…nice.

  2. laura

    Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples was a joy to read. I especially liked her first book – can’t recall the name at this time, but the cover has a photo of her as a small girl. Whether or not you meant a reference to her book, I enjoyed your post.

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