This recipe for ca kho to will teach you to make the traditional Vietnamese dish. Kho dishes are cooked in clay pots and seasoned with nuoc mau, a rich caramel sauce. Ca kho to features fish, but pork, seafood, chicken and tofu are other ingredients you can use.
Start with one and a half pounds of catfish filets. You can also try salmon, trout or mackerel. Marinate for half an hour in a large bowl. The marinade consists of a quarter cup of fish sauce, three minced shallots, four cloves of minced garlic and a teaspoon of white pepper. Reserve the marinade when you remove the fish. Then heat two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a clay pot. Clay pots are available cheaply at most Asian markets. Put the fish in the clay pot and brown on each side. Stir in the reserved marinade, a third of a cup of nuoc mau caramel sauce and three chopped scallions. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. You want the liquid to reduce to a thick syrup. Adjust the amounts of fish sauce and sugar until it reaches your preferences. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with steamed rice or slices of French bread.
When it comes to the nuoc mau you can buy it in the store but it’s tastier to make your own. You can also substitute Indonesian kecap manis as well. Add a quarter cup of sugar and a quarter cup of water to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, making sure to stir, until the sugar starts to turn dark brown. The color may start to slightly smoke; it will be extremely hot to the touch so be careful. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in another half cup of water. There will be plenty of sizzling. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Variations include adding a tablespoon of minced ginger to the marinade, or a tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Try a minced red chili for heat. Or add a half cup of coconut juice (not milk) to the clay pot for cooking.