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.
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 Vietnamese Braised Fish in Clay Pot
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)
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.