Ca Kho To – Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot

ca kho to, caramelized fish clay pot

Sometimes we just get tired of eating out and long for home style dishes that our moms use to make while growing up. Nothing reminds us more of our childhood memories more then ca kho to (Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot). While pho may be a special treat to eat on occassional weekends, ca kho to is a dish that families routinely eat on a regular basis. The sweet, savory and gooey goodness of the caramelized sauce of this dish is almost good enough to stand on it’s own mixed with plenty of jasmine rice.

In Vietnam, ca kho to is often cooked in a brown clay pot to retain heat and help in the caramelizing process, but this isn’t essential. We like to use our Korean stone pot, but any thick pan or dutch oven that retains heat will do just as well. Typically catfish is used, but really any variety of fish can be used. Catfish is great for braising since it has a higher fat content, rendering it moist but still retaining it’s shape during the braise. Some recipes even call for braising some pork belly with the fish as well. While it’s easy to make your own caramel sauce, we like to use the premade one since we use it for so many other things as well.

ca kho to

If you can’t find premade caramel sauce, it’s easy to make your own. All you need is sugar and water. Use about 2 tbs of sugar and 1/4 cup water and keep at a rolling simmer, stirring until it reduces and becomes dark brown, about 8min or so. It should be around maple syrup like consistency. If too thick, just add more water.

ca kho to - caramelized fish clay pot

 

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Ca Kho To Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot

Ingredients:

1 lb catfish steaks (bone and skin on or other meaty fish steaks)
4 tbs fish sauce
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs minced shallots
2 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs black pepper
3 green onions, sliced 1 inches long
3 tbs caramel sauce (see above)
1 can of young coconut juice
1 thai chili (thinly sliced, optional)
cooking oil

Directions:

Clean the fish steaks, rinse well and pat dry. Marinade with fish sauce, sugar, pepper, garlic, and shallots for about 1/2-1 hr.
In pot, heat about 1 tbs of cooking oil on medium high and add the marinaded fish. Allow to sear and brown for about 2-3 before searing opposite side for another few minutes. Add the caramel sauce and just enough coconut juice to the level of the fish steaks. Cover and turn to med low heat and allow to simmer for about 25 min (longer if you want it really soft), checking a few times to make sure that it's not reduced too much. Add more coconut juice or caramel sauce if needed. The fish will eventually caramelize and brown, as will the sauce which will be a thick gooey consistency. Taste sauce and make final adjustments with fish sauce or sugar. Turn off heat and add additional fresh cracked pepper, green onions, and optional chili pepper.

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101 Responses to “Ca Kho To – Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot”

  1. 1

    Anh — August 13, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Nice! I just ate this for dinner! :D

  2. 2

    Joy — August 13, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    What a lovely, nourishing, comforting meal!

  3. 3

    natalie — August 13, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    yum, this is one of my favorite things to make for dinner!!

  4. 4

    Sam@BingeNYC — August 13, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

    I really love Vietnamese food, but sometimes have a hard time finding recipes that seem "authentic" (as if I would know…ha) This looks delicious, thanks for sharing!

  5. 5

    Jeff — August 13, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    I agree on the longing for the mom's dishes although mine would be be more of grandma dishes because she could cook and mom swears it skipped a generation.

    This reminds me I need to find a clay pot. Definitely something I want to experiment with.

  6. 6

    Ravenous Couple — August 13, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    Anh: Thanks! Ca Kho To is just such a good daily meal.

    Joy: Ca Kho To is definitely one of the most popular Vietnamese comfort food.

    natalie: thanks for stopping by our blog and commenting!

    Sam: Authenticity is a hard thing to pin down as even in Vietnam, ca kho to recipes can vary by regional and personal preferences. Even in this dish as some use pork belly or ginger or lemongrass.

    jeff: clay pots are often found in asian markets for pretty cheap–but you don't absolutely need it to make ca kho to. A good dutch oven will be perfect.

  7. 7

    Gastronomer — August 13, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

    I was just talking to my grandma about this dish! I've made thit kho many times, but have yet to try my hand at ca kho. I know a clay pot isn't necessary, but it looks so stinkin' cool.

  8. 8

    Ravenous Couple — August 13, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    Gastronomer: You'll be a pro at making this dish if you already know thit kho. We love our Korean stone pot since we use it for this and soon du boo. :)

  9. 9

    Anonymous — August 13, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    Wow, this looks amazing! Something like mom used to make :-) Thanks for posting….will be trying as soon as possible!

  10. 10

    Ellie — August 14, 2009 @ 12:13 am

    I always like claypot dish. I have never tried a Vietnamese claypot fish. This is definitely a must do dish to me! Thanks for sharing!

  11. 11

    Ravenous Couple — August 14, 2009 @ 7:14 am

    anonymous: Let us know when you make ca kho to and how it goes!

    Ellie: We'll love to see your version of fish in clay pot one day.

  12. 12

    Megan@Feasting on Art — August 14, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    This sounds like the perfect recipe to get my partner to eat fish!!

  13. 13

    Ross — August 14, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

    OMG this looks amazing. Om nom nom nom

  14. 14

    5 Star Foodie — August 14, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    The braised fish sounds amazing! I'm loving the addition of caramel sauce! Glad to find your blog!

  15. 15

    Ravenous Couple — August 14, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

    Meagan: We'll love to know what work of art you would pair with this dish.. :)

    Ross: Thanks! We think the ca kho to tastes great too.

    5 Star Foodie: Thanks! Anything caramelized is good. This method is also great for braising pork belly (thit kho) or chicken (ga kho).

  16. 16

    KyotoFoodieのPekoPeko — August 15, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

    This looks heavenly! Gooey, sweet catfish? Nice!

    I think that I could improvise this dish with ingredients available in Japan. But the coco caramel syrup I might not be able to find. How could I improvise that?

  17. 17

    Ravenous Couple — August 15, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    KyotofoodiePekoPeko: it's easy to make your caramel sauce. All you need is sugar and water. Use about 2 tbs of sugar and 1/4 cup and keep at a rolling simmer, stirring until it reduces and becomes dark brown, about 8min or so. It should be around maple syrup like consistency. If too thick, just add more water.

  18. 18

    Kevin — August 15, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

    That fish looks really tasty!

  19. 19

    Ravenous Couple — August 17, 2009 @ 6:26 am

    Kevin: Thanks! Ca kho to is one of our comfort go to dishes.

  20. 20

    Anonymous — August 18, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

    I tried this and it was great and easy. I might try again with a different type of fish. The catfish (frozen yellow catfish) I used has a lot of small bones. Any suggestions on what I can replace with?

  21. 21

    Anonymous — August 18, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

    This is insanity!!! Your blog always makes me hungry!!! Please spare me some mercy!!!

    I Totally Love this dish, although I think I usually devour the rice and the sauce a little more! Strange!

    Well thanks again for making me salivating….!

  22. 22

    test translate — August 19, 2009 @ 8:51 am

    Your site very useful.
    When I read the article and see a variety, it makes me happy.
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    A site about recipe for salmon patties

    thank a lot your information
    and thank you very much for I had the opportunity to publish my work. :)

  23. 23

    Ravenous Couple — August 20, 2009 @ 12:55 am

    Anonymous 1: Sometimes we prefer tuna steaks and mackerel steaks over catfish because of that reason. Give those a try!

    Anyonymous 2: We feel the same way about ca kho to…love the sauce…we'll do our best to keep on making you salivate! :)

    Test: thanks for sharing the recipe.

  24. 24

    Linda — August 21, 2009 @ 4:51 am

    I've been looking for a recipe like this! where can I find the coco caramel jar in/around San Francisco? I just moved here so I'm not that familiar with all the grocery stores. Thanks and great website!

  25. 25

    Ravenous Couple — August 21, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    Linda: If you can't find it in your Asian grocer, it's easy to make your own. All you need is sugar and water. Use about 2 tbs of sugar and 1/4 cup and keep at a rolling simmer, stirring until it reduces and becomes dark brown, about 8min or so. It should be around maple syrup like consistency. If too thick, just add more water.

  26. 26

    Nii — September 3, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    Simply delicious – I'll be sure to make this.

    In Vietnam, would they eat this dish with herbs?

  27. 27

    Ravenous Couple — September 4, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

    Nii: In typical family dinners, meat/fish dish such as ca kho to is eatened with any variety of soup, such as canh tan o and a side of veggies such as mustard greens or pickled vegetables (do chua). Generally, this isn't eatened with herbs (perilla, mint, rau ram) like noodle soups.

  28. 28

    Angry Asian — September 9, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    my mother used to make a huge pot of this dish for me, because i'm a huge fan of leftovers and i could eat this pretty much everyday for a week. she used sardine fish, stewing them for such an amount of time that the bones became so tender, they'd melt in your mouth.

    my grandfather used to serve this with rice porridge for breakfast. this post so brought back memories!

  29. 29

    Ravenous Couple — October 10, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

    angry asian: same here! the left overs of this dish is still so good…thanks for sharing your family traditions!

  30. 30

    Anonymous — October 31, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    Just had this for lunch at Vung Tao II in Milpitas (delicious!) and I was looking for a recipe to try. Look forward to checking it out.

  31. 31

    KRon — December 10, 2009 @ 1:11 am

    This was my favorite dish made by Vietnamese ex-mother-in-law, so after the divorce I thought I would never taste its deliciousness again. After following your recipe myself, I just wanted to say "THANK YOU!" The only thing I added was that she always served it topped with hanh phi (fried shallots), which added a nice lite crunch. Dare I say this one's better than hers? Yes, yes I think I will… :)

  32. 32

    Ravenous Couple — December 12, 2009 @ 3:10 am

    KRon: Thank you so much for the feedback–it's comments like yours that really make this blog and sharing recipes enjoyable!

  33. 33

    Term Papers — January 27, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

    The sweet, savory and gooey goodness of the caramelized sauce of this dish is almost good enough to stand on it's own mixed with plenty of jasmine rice.

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  34. 34

    Anonymous — February 4, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    Hi, i am just wondering how do you do with the new claypot without cracking? Thanks.

  35. 35

    Ravenous Couple — February 4, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    anonymous: this site has good information on claypots

    http://www.bramcookware.com/pages.php?pID=7&CDpath=0

  36. 36

    Anonymous — February 5, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

    Thanks for the link, it's so helpful.

    Anyway, your ca kho make me mouth watering, all your recipes are look good.

    Thanks again for the recipes and claypot information.

  37. 37

    Term Papers — May 7, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    This is a fantastic, yummy to see this blog, good food, O i feel hungry now, let me have one please, Thanks for share this Yummy post.

  38. 38

    Nathan — October 4, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, but I find it almost impossible to find it in restaurants in Montréal. I feel like I'm doing my culture a service by finding this recipe, just wish my father had taught me before, like the language.

  39. 39

    DanVy — October 6, 2010 @ 4:32 am

    Not usually a huge fish fan, but I've always wanted to make this. I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog! I wanna run to the nearest Lee Lee and make some of these recipes.

  40. 40

    Advantagepapers — November 24, 2010 @ 7:31 am

    The information about the Ca Kho To Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot is one that has so much as for information I think that the given information is really good and from the pictures even it look great.

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  41. 41

    Buy essays — December 8, 2010 @ 11:59 am

    Cooking covers both the necessity to eat and the desire for variety in what is eaten. A combination of taste, sight and nutrition requirements come together in subtle ways to make each meal different.

  42. 42

    Term Papers — January 6, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    The Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot, is some thing nice for eating and I think this this is a thing which always has a test that peoples does like eating it.

  43. 43

    Essays — March 17, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    Hmmmm!!!thanks for this most delicious and tasty meal article,specially for all pictures you share.

  44. 44

    Anonymous — March 31, 2011 @ 7:04 am

    I just tried cooking this dish but didn't have coconut juice so i substituted coconut milk+water. Just wondering how should the sauce taste like when it's cooked? I thought it tasted a little weird. Like sweet with spicy taste. Maybe i've added too much pepper? ><

  45. 45

    Shobi — April 1, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    Hi, I have just visited your site and the info you have covered has been of great interest to me.

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  46. 46

    hs — April 13, 2011 @ 6:55 am

    This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking
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  47. 47

    Khanh — April 16, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Anonymous, I used to sub coconut juice for coconut milk and water too…and the dish would always come out really weird as a result!

    I later learned from my mom that you can sub Sprite or 7-up if you can't get coconut juice. It's a strange sub, I know, but my mom's ca kho and thit kho were always delicious. :9

  48. 48

    sue — June 8, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    do i need a claypot? a regular pot will work?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — June 8th, 2011 @ 11:31 am

      yes, a regular heavy pot would work..also french oven would also be great

  49. 49

    bob — June 16, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

    I don’t really like catfish because it has a muddy taste to it, but make this dish with monkfish and it’s fantastic!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — June 16th, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

      thanks for letting us know! yes, you can definitely use most types of meaty fish and it would work great. try it with stripe bass or mackerel

  50. 50

    Lauren — June 18, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    How many servings does this make? Two people or four? THANKS!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — June 18th, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

      1 lb of fish will easily serve 2 and likely 4 if you plan on having sides and eat with rice

  51. 51

    Lauren — June 18, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    Thanks so much! One more question. Do I put all the marinade in the pot with the fish, or just lift the fish out and into the pot? Seems like a ton of garlic! Thanks!!

  52. 52

    Sarah — July 18, 2011 @ 9:52 am

    This is one of my all time favourites. The recipe is so simple that I had to give it a try. I couldn’t find catfish so used basa fish and cooked in a regular pot. It turned out great. I won’t be ordering this dish at the restaurant anymore!!! The next time I cook this dish, I will cut back on the fish sauce and replace with salt to reduce the fishy smell. It took a whole day for the house smell fresh again :-). Thank you for sharing the recipe!!

  53. 53

    Thao — August 25, 2011 @ 12:57 am

    If you do not have coconut juice can you use water instead. I live in England and it is not always easy to get hold of Vietnamese ingredients. Many thanks in advance

  54. 54

    Vietnamese Caramel Catfish (Ca Kho To) | a fistful of basil — November 30, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

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    Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Fish) « Postcard Recipes — February 26, 2012 @ 9:32 am

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  57. 57

    Lee — March 8, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    This was the first dish I have ever cooked. So obviously I followed your recipe down to the T! My boyfriend was absolutely amazed by how delicious it came out. I love the Ravenous Couple for inspiring me to start cooking! Thanks for sharing!!!

  58. 58

    Monkee — March 29, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    Hi there, if I can’t find catfish steak, can I use catfish fillet? Also can you tell us more about how to add the pork belly with it? Thanksss, am making it tonight, so excited!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — March 29th, 2012 @ 9:11 am

      you don’t want to use very thin pieces of fish since you’re braising it for a while and it’ll break apart. you can use other fish steaks like mackeral. totally throw in the pork belly at the same time and maybe you can cut down a bit on the oil since pork belly is fatty

  59. 59

    Monkee — March 29, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Sweeet thanks, and my god you guys are so fast with reply! <3 your site!

  60. 60

    Annie — May 9, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    I was not able to find young coconut juice at my local asian grocery store. They did, however, have coconut juice. Will this work? Thank you for sharing such a great recipe!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — May 9th, 2012 @ 7:55 am

      yes, it will, some people even use water or 7 up!

  61. 61

    Blind Cook Competes for 'Master Chef' | EURweb — June 5, 2012 @ 6:34 am

    [...] Ha was able to gain entry to the top 100 chefs for the “MasterChef” competition with a braised castfish in a clay pot dish, a part of her ancestral Vietnamese comfort cuisine, according to the Houston Chronicle. In Vietnamese, this dish is called Ca Kho To. [...]

  62. 62

    Houston's Own Blind Cook (Christine Ha) Ready To Battle In ‘Master Chef’ | Praise Houston — June 5, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    [...] Ha was able to gain entry to the top 100 chefs for the “MasterChef” competition with a braised castfish in a clay pot dish, a part of her ancestral Vietnamese comfort cuisine, according to the Houston Chronicle. In Vietnamese, this dish is called Ca Kho To. [...]

  63. 63

    Houston’s Own Blind Cook (Christine Ha) Ready To Battle In ‘Master Chef’ | 97.9 The Box — June 5, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

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  64. 64

    Houston's Own Blind Cook (Christine Ha) Ready To Battle In ‘Master Chef’ | Majic 102.1 — June 5, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

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  65. 65

    June — August 29, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

    Hi, thanks for the recipe! Very tasty! I just want to confirm – the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of pepper. Is this correct or should it be 1 teaspoon?

    Thanks in advance!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — August 30th, 2012 @ 10:53 am

      use according to your taste, we like it really peppery, but 1 ts is fine

  66. 66

    phammy — September 5, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

    rather than coconut juice or using water and sugar for the caramel sauce, i use a little bit of sugar and coco rico coconut soda to make the carmel sauce to skip a step :)

  67. 67

    Jerica — October 13, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

    My husband LOVES this dish. Im going to try this, will catfish fillets work?
    We live in a small town and i cant find any fish steaks anywhere!!
    Please help!!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — October 16th, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

      filets will probably be ok,but try mackeral filets or any firm fish steaks, stripe bass…etc

  68. 68

    Christine — October 18, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

    Thank you for the awesome recipe! My husband and I had braised catfish at a little restaurant in Westminster, CA just yesterday. I am eager to try this recipe asap! My only concern is our neighbor downstairs, haha. This will be stinky and I want to simmer til the bones are edible! :) Kudos on the beautiful photography too!

  69. 69

    Jerica — October 29, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    Thank you!! I did it with the fillets my husband loved it, i just had to be careful because they were very tender. But overall great recipe!!

  70. 70

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  71. 71

    Colette — December 9, 2012 @ 9:35 pm

    I had this at a restaurant and really didn’t know what I was ordering…When my food was delivered and I realized that it was catfish I was mad that I was paying 15.00 for my food..I thought “I can make this and catfish is on sale!!”. I went home and looked for a recipe and found your site. Thank you for helping me save my money..
    http://sphotos-e.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/532502_10151902573130287_2048413647_n.jpg

    A picture of my plate. Was delicious!!

  72. 72

    Ca Kho To | Christopher Thornton — April 15, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

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  73. 73

    Tufan — May 11, 2013 @ 6:53 am

    What is juice of young coconut ? Is that what we refer to as coconut water or extract from the coconut flesh aka cocnut milk?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — May 13th, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

      yes, coconut water. not coconut milk.

  74. 74

    Jaclyn — June 3, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

    Hi Ravenous Couple! Both of my parents lived their younger years in Vietnam so we are always eating Vietnamese at home. My grandmother used to kho ca for me all the time before she passed and recently I came into possession of her old clay pot. I found your recipe and I really want to give it a try, but I’m kind of lost on how this would be made in a clay pot. Will the fish sear the same way in a clay pot as in a pan? Can all of your above steps be done in the clay pot?

    I love that the two of you are so passionate about Vietnamese cuisine, and really appreciate you sharing all your recipes. Thanks!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — June 4th, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

      that’s a fantastic keep sake. yes, you can do it all in the clay pot.

  75. 75

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  76. 76

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  77. 77

    Thuy — August 12, 2013 @ 3:57 am

    Best recipe I’ve seen on the internet yet, cooked it for dinner tonight and it was exactly like my mum’s! Delicious :)

  78. 78

    Julia — September 28, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

    I really loved this, but this fish completely fell apart while it was cooking. So it tasted good, but looked kind of gross because it was all crumbly. Is that normal? How do you avoid that? I used halibut; not sure if that makes a difference.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — October 8th, 2013 @ 10:46 am

      yes, some fish wont’ work well esp if they are “lighter” flakier fishes that can’t take a longer braise. meatier, and fattier fish works better.

  79. 79

    Julia — September 28, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

    Also, sorry, definitely did not mean the same (or a similar) message twice! Not sure how that happened…

  80. 80

    Erica — January 29, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    Do you pour the fish and all marinade in pot in the final step?

  81. 81

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  82. 82

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  83. 83

    John — March 19, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    Perfect recipe for Fridays during Lent. Thanks for sharing.

  84. 84

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  85. 85

    liz — April 7, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

    My older sister made me 2 staples before she left my house for Thanksgiiving: a jar of caramel sauce and a jar of nouc mam dipping sauce (yeah the one with garlic, peppers, lime, a little sweet). I too can now cook Vietnamese – exactly her motivation:)

  86. 86

    Lylee Jensen — August 11, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    If I didn’t have a clay pot, can I just use a regular non stick pot? Can I use regular sugar instead of brown sugar? Last but not least, can I use coco rico soda instead of young coconut juice?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — August 22nd, 2014 @ 11:09 am

      yes, a regular heavy pot such as enamel work great. yes, white sugar is actually good to use as it caramelizes nicely. coco rico is an adequate substitute.

  87. 87

    Lylee Jensen — November 14, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

    Hi! I just purchased my first clay pot today. The one I bought had a metal wire type thing around it, am I suppose to take the wire off or leave it on?

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