Vietnamese-Style Caramel Chicken with Broccoli
- 1/2 T baking soda
- 150 mL cold water
- 1 lb chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, trimmed, and halved crosswise)
- 180 mL hot water (3/4 cup)
- 96 g sugar (7T)
- 45 mL water (3T)
- 1/4 c fish sauce
- 2 T grated ginger (fresh)
- water (as needed for broccoli)
- 1/2 lb broccoli (florets cut into 1" pieces)
- 2 t cornstarch
- 1 T water
- 1 t pepper
- 1 T chopped cilantro (fresh)
- cooked white rice (to serve)
1. Combine baking soda and water in medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Rinse chicken in cold water and drain well.
2a. Meanwhile, heat 180mL water and set aside, keeping hot.
2b. Combine sugar and 45mL water in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until mixture begins to turn golden, 4 to 6 minutes.
2c. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, gently swirling saucepan, until sugar turns color of molasses and registers between 390 and 400F, 4 to 6 minutes longer.
2d. (Caramel will produce some smoke during last 1 to 2 minutes of cooking.)
2e. Immediately remove saucepan from heat and carefully pour in hot 180mL of water (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously).
2f. When bubbling has subsided, return saucepan to medium heat and stir to dissolve caramel.
3. Transfer caramel to skillet and stir in fish sauce and ginger. Add chicken and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until chicken is fork-tender and registers 205F, 30-40 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through simmering. Transfer chicken to serving dish and cover to keep warm.
4. Cook broccoli. Bring 1" water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Lower insert or steamer basket with broccoli into pot so it rests above water; cover and simmer until broccoli is just tender, 4½-5 minutes. Transfer broccoli to serving dish with chicken.
5a. While the broccoli cooks, bring sauce to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until reduced to about ¾ cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water together in small bowl, then whisk into sauce; simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in pepper.
5b. Pour ¼ cup sauce over chicken and broccoli. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve, passing remaining sauce separately.
Notes from source: The saltiness of fish sauce can vary; we recommend Tiparos. When taking the temperature of the caramel in step 2, tilt the pan and move the thermometer back and forth to equalize hot and cool spots; also make sure to have hot water at the ready. This dish is intensely seasoned, so serve it with plenty of steamed white rice.
Why this recipe works: Traditional Vietnamese-style caramel chicken promises a dish that balances a bittersweet caramel with salty and spicy flavors, but most recipes miss the mark. Cooking the caramel until it was a deep, dark color was key to achieving the right complex bittersweetness, while fish sauce (in a 1:4 ratio of fish sauce to caramel) lent the traditional balancing salty component. A combination of ginger and black pepper provided the right amount of heat. Cutting the boneless, skinless chicken thighs in half, rather than into smaller bits as called for in many of the recipes we found, gave the chicken more time to absorb the sauce, while a quick soak in a baking soda-water bath helped the chicken stay juicy over a longer cooking time that turned the meat ultratender. To complete the meal, we steamed broccoli to serve alongside.
SJ Note 7 Jan 2017: Good! Needs more sauce, so I've tweaked that.