I wanted to post about a dish that is distinctively Vietnamese. What is more Vietnamese than a caramelized savoury dish. According to Andrea Nguyen (a renowned Vietnamese cookbook author), caramel sauce (nuoc mau, pronounced "nook mao") is one of the cornerstones of Vietnamese cooking. It's primarily used in kho dishes to simmer savory foods such as whole fish, pork, shrimp, chicken, eggs and tofu -- homey foods that are the soul of Vietnamese cooking. The color and flavor of caramel sauce are transformative, making food not only look beautifully amber but also delectable.
I made this dish in early 2012. I decided to remake it and post the recipe in time for AFF IndoChina.
This recipe is super simple. 4 steps actually;
- Make caramel sauce
- Brown ginger and chicken
- Toss ginger and chicken into caramel sauce and simmer until cooked
- Serve and eat (3 steps only if you remove this last step!)
When I was in Hanoi, Vietnam, I ate many caramelized dishes. They had a lot more ingredients in them. But somehow, this simple dish with only ginger to flavour it, tastes just as good!
A few tips that I would like to share: When you're making the caramel sauce, do not cook it until amber coloured. It means that you have overcaramelised the sauce which would make it difficult to coat the chicken pieces. It only has to be cooked until golden coloured. The sauce will caramelize more later when the chicken pieces are added in. (I made this mistake when I cooked this chicken earlier in 2012). Also remember to turn the chicken pieces halfway through the cooking time so that all the pieces would be evenly caramelized.
|Sigh! The very hot bubbling caramel sauce can't be clearly seen.|
If you are unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, you may find it strange to use a 'dessert ingredient' to cook a savoury dish. But somehow the Vietnamese have it right. The caramel sauce complements the chicken dish nicely. It adds a light hint of sweetness without overpowering it.
Here's the recipe:
Caramelized Chicken with Ginger
- 74ml/5 Tbsp sugar
- 30ml/2 Tbsp groundnut (peanut) oil
- 25g/1 oz fresh root ginger, peeled and finely shredded or grated (I used ginger slices)
- 12 chicken wings, split in tow
- chilli oil, for drizzling
- mixed pickled vegetables to serve
To make caramel sauce, gently heat the sugar with 60ml/4 Tbsp water in a small, heavy pan until it turns golden. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan. Add the ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chicken wings and toss them around the wok to brown.
Pour in the caramel sauce and make sure the chicken wings are coated in it. Reduce the heat, cover the wok or pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, until tender and the sauce has caramelized.
Drizzle chilli oil over the wings and serve from wok or pan with mixed pickled vegetables.
From Vietnamese Food and Cooking, by Ghillie Basan (Published by Hermes House)