Braised and caramelized catfish (ca kho) is a common side dish in a Vietnamese home-cooked meal. It’s often eaten with steamed white rice and plenty of fresh and boiled vegetables to dip in the braising liquid. For a complete Vietnamese family meal, this side dish is served with its sister soup dish, Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Catfish Soup (Canh Chua Ca Tre).
When the catfish is served or cooked in a claypot, it’s called Ca Kho To. For this dish, I don’t regularly use a claypot. Claypots have a rounded bottom that makes it hard to get the fish to soak up the braising liquid. For that reason, I like to use a large skillet so that the fish steaks sit in a single layer. Once the fish starts cooking, you do not want to move them too much. Otherwise, they will just break apart which will not look too appetizing.
In Vietnam, any protein that is braised and caramelized is referred to as “Kho”. There are plenty of “Kho” dishes using pork, shrimp, tofu, chicken and beef. The caramelization of sugar and braising cooking method is what gives the dish its beautiful brown finish. To save time, the caramel sauce is usually prepared ahead of time. In my recipe below, I walk you through how to quickly make the caramel sauce if you don’t have it already prepared.
Vietnamese Braised & Caramelized Catfish (Ca Kho)
- 3 lbs cat fish (slice into 1-1/2-inch thick steaks)
- 3-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar (half for caramel sauce)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 shallot (mince)
- 3 cloves garlic (mince)
- 1/2 can Coco brand coconut soda
- 1 green onion (slice thinly)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Marinate catfish steaks with fish sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar for at least 15 minutes.
- In a claypot or skillet that’s large enough to place catfish in a single layer, heat vegetable oil on medium high. Add rest of sugar (1 tablespoon) and heat until sugar caramelizes to an amber color. Immediately, add shallot and garlic and saute until fragrant (20-30 seconds).
- Add marinated catfish and all its marinade liquid into the skillet. Flip catfish on all sides to evenly coat with aromatics and caramel sauce. Gently braise without too much touching (otherwise fish will break apart) for 10 minutes.
- Add in the coconut soda and braise for 10 more minutes. Top with green onions and black pepper when ready to serve.