Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chicken (or Pork) in Caramel Sauce: Memories of Vietnam

Some years ago, I participated as an instructor in a public health training course in Hanoi, Vietnam. I shared lunches with the students at the training center. There I enjoyed a delicious meat dish -- though in small quantity with lots of rice -- every day. Sometimes it was made with chicken thigh, other days with pork. There was usually a vegetable stewed with the meat, my favorite of which was young turmip. But what was common every day was the luscious, mildly sweet sauce. This was the northern version of Vietnamese stewed meat in caramel sauce.

The dish is somewhat similar to the Chinese “red cooked” stew of chicken or pork but with Vietnamese touches, including the caramelized sugar and the fish sauce. It can be made with bamboo shoot chunks rather than turnip, or carrot or potato, added at appropriate times in the cooking to reach tenderness. Or there can be no vegetable, if preferred.

The dish is served topped with a little chopped cilantro and accompanied by unsalted white rice. Jasmine would be good (see blog posting of 1/28/08). The recipe serves six.

In Vietnam the drink would be beer (though not for the students at lunch!). A fairly dry Riesling or rosé would go well, too.

Vietnamese Chicken (or Pork) in Caramel Sauce with Turnip

1-1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or lean pork from shoulder or leg)
4 tablespoons palm or brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup water (water from coconut or even lemon soft drink was sometimes used in Vietnam)
1 large clove of garlic
2 scallions (green onions)
1/2-inch fresh ginger
2-1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (available in Asian groceries)
1 teaspoon black soy sauce (available in Asian groceries)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 slices hot chili pepper or 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 medium white turnips or daikon radish (about 1-1/2 cups when cut up)
Cilantro or scallion (green onion) for garnish, optional

Trim away fat or tough parts of meat. Cut meat into 1-inch pieces and set aside. In heavy pot, heat sugar and 2 tablespoons of water over medium heat until bubbling. Heat without stirring until melted sugar turns a milk-chocolate color. Add 1 cup of water, and stir to begin dissolving the caramel.

Crush garlic, slice scallions 1/4-inch long (including greens), and slice ginger 1/8-inch thick. Add all these to pot. Add fish sauce, black pepper, and hot pepper. When boiling, add cut up meat, and stir until the meat color changes. Reduce heat, and simmer until the meat starts to become tender (about 5 minutes for chicken thighs, 30 minutes for pork).

Add a little water, if needed, to keep liquid just below surface of the meat. While meat is cooking, peel turnips or daikon radish and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. When the meat is becoming tender, add turnips to pot. Simmer until turnips are tender, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring carefully. Taste sauce and, if necessary, add salt to taste.

The flavor is enhanced if dish is prepared ahead of time, refrigerated and reheated to serve. Taste sauce and adjust salt, if necessary.

If desired, the dish can be garnished on top with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves or sliced green tops of scallion.

Serve with unsalted white rice.


Blogger Samrithy said...

Thank you for posting your recipe.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Joseph's Audio Transcriber said...

Delicious and super easy. Great to throw together in the morning and reheat after work. For heat I put two whole dried sanaam peppers in with the broth and removed them before serving. Will definitely make this again. Thanks!

6:33 AM  

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