Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken From Charles Phan

Cooking for One

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken From Charles Phan

March 17, 2020
18 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

At his legendary Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, Charles Phan serves Caramelized Claypot Chicken made with the traditional Vietnamese kho (or dry-braise) technique, using a small amount of fish sauce caramel to simmer the chicken and aromatics. In this recipe, he streamlines the ingredients and process, so that more cooks can easily make it at home—using widely available ingredients and equipment, and no stressing over making caramel. (You'll just warm everything for the sauce at once.) The technique is flexible—don't worry if you're missing some of the ingredients, or want to use catfish or tofu instead of chicken. Charles recommends making extra sauce to keep in the fridge so that a good dinner is even closer.

As Charles Phan writes, "This is one of the handful of dishes that we’ve served from the very first day at the Slanted Door. It’s traditionally made using bone-in pieces of chicken but we weren’t sure how well that would be received by customers. To play it safe, we used a mix of boneless, skinless white and dark meat when we first opened. These days we often run specials that feature bone-in chicken, which is more flavorful. The recipe couldn’t be simpler. If you have a batch of caramel sauce in the fridge, dinner will be ready in about twenty-five minutes."

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine and The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food (Ten Speed Press, October 2014). —Genius Recipes

Watch This Recipe
Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken From Charles Phan
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon one-inch piece of fresh ginger, julienned (or more)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 fresh Thai chiles, halved, or dried red chiles
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 cilantro sprigs (optional)
  • Steamed jasmine rice for serving
In This Recipe
  1. In a bowl, combine the chicken, 1 teaspoon of the oil and a good pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, fish sauce, water, and rice vinegar. Heat on medium until the sugar dissolves, and then turn the heat down to low.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook in the skillet for about one minute. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until softened, about 3 more minutes. Add the chicken and chiles and cook for about one minute.
  4. Add about half of the fish sauce mixture to the chicken along with the black pepper. Simmer over medium-high heat, until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Taste and decide if you'd like more sauce—if so, add it, then briefly simmer again.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve with rice.
  6. Leftover sauce can be stored airtight in the refrigerator for more quick dinners.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • The Pontificator
    The Pontificator
  • trish
  • Greg Crawford
    Greg Crawford
  • mrstock
  • Judy
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

    24 Reviews

    CC H. September 12, 2020
    Amazing recipe. I added toasted cashews. Fantastic.
    olivieri July 22, 2020
    Ive made this twice. Once with chicken thighs and once with pork tenderloin. Equally delicious. I added extra veggies to it and it turns out fantastic. Peppers and carrots.
    MikeB July 8, 2020
    This is absolutely delicious. I mixed in some green beans for a little crunch (and some green is always nice). Only issue is chicken can overcook. I pulled it out after about five minutes, reduced the sauce to almost a glace and tossed the chicken back in to coat and heat through. I also didn’t reserve half the sauce but rather used it all.

    Seriously delicious. This will definitely go in my repertoire.
    kmb July 6, 2020
    This is very good. My pandemic pantry yielded only two tablespoons of fish sauce, so I subbed in a tablespoon of soy sauce to make up the difference. I also added a squeeze of lime and twice the cilantro on top per the suggestions other reviewer.
    Ellie L. May 6, 2020
    This looks so yummy! I need substitutions, please:) For the sweetener would fresh orange juice work? White wine vinegar for the rice vinegar?
    The P. April 8, 2020
    At Casa Pontificator we just had this for lunch with a side of stir-fried Bok Choy and Cara Cara orange slices for dessert.

    This recipe is outstanding and I made if full strength with a few extra chiles (all I have are some dried De Arbol) and lot of cilantro which add that bright top note.

    My only "con" is that it is extremely salty. Whoa. Next time I might have to back off the fish sauce and/or water it down and/or consider finding that fish sauce with reduced sodium (Tiparos or whatever they call it now to skirt import restrictions).

    But yeah, it's a keeper.
    trish March 31, 2020
    Wow, I just tried this recipe last night and it is a real winner!! I followed the recipe almost exactly, I grated the ginger instead of julienne. Next time, I would cut out some of the brown sugar, use less fish sauce and take the seeds out of the chiles! I love the aromatics of this dish and it reminded me of a Thai dish I make with pork instead of chicken. It was a little spicy from the halved chili, I love the heat but it was a little too much for my tongue! This will be added to our favourite recipe book! Thank you for another great recipe!
    Judy N. March 26, 2020
    This recipe was a hit with the family. I made one chicken and one tofu version and both were popular!
    Shortrib March 26, 2020
    Pretty good, but I prefer the caramel sauce used in the recipe for roast salmon with cheat's caramel sauce also on this site. It uses soy sauce and lime juice which add punch, and much less fish sauce. We enjoyed this, but it's not as interesting. Thanks!
    Greg C. March 24, 2020
    What a wonderful combo of flavors. We loved how the cracked pepper added pop and set off the sweetness from the sauce. And then the ginger. Really, really good. And so easy. Don't tell Charles, but we used cauliflower rice. :-) Putting this in the favorite collection!
    mrstock March 23, 2020
    Fish sauce stinks. Remember that one before you start! Having said that your home will smell
    No worse than the local Thai or Viet takeaway!
    james March 23, 2020 and yummy...and versatile.....add steamed vegetables like snow peas and string beans and julienne carrots.....they caramelize quickly.....or serve them above jasmine rice with cocoanut....
    Judy March 21, 2020
    Made this tonight- exactly as written. Next time, I would use only one thai chili, and would toss in steamed broccoli. This is a great pantry dinner for us. Thanks!
    NickD March 19, 2020
    Made this recipe tonight. I only added 1/2 the fish sauce per the recipe and it came out great. Only used one Thai pepper because my wife doesn’t like really spicy and it was perfect for us. We’re on a low carb diet so we ladled the dish over roasted cauliflower and broccoli.
    I can see replacing the chicken with shrimp or pork and getting an equally tasty dish.
    Thanks for the recipe.
    Kristen M. March 20, 2020
    So glad to hear this!
    jason March 19, 2020
    Very tasty, very simple. Thanks.
    Kristen M. March 20, 2020
    Sayo March 19, 2020
    I made this today. Added some veggies too. Came out soo delicious! Thanks so much.
    Kristen M. March 20, 2020
    Love this idea. Glad it worked well for you!
    Kim M. March 18, 2020
    This recipe is delicious! I made it for dinner and my husband and I could not saying “oh my gosh this is so food!” This is a new favorite in our house that I will make very often. Thanks for the recipe!
    Kristen M. March 19, 2020
    I'm so happy to hear this!!
    Beverly C. March 18, 2020
    I made this just the other night, but my recipe never had about only adding half the sauce at first (older version from Food and Wine, but from Chef Phan). That probably would have really helped because mine never really caramelized. It was way too soupy, but with very good flavor. I might even add a touch of cornstarch to the liquid before cooking it to thicken it a bit. Tried that on some leftovers I had of the chicken and it helped, but not enough to really give it that caramelized coating that I was looking for. But it was super simple, and yes, the fish sauce does stink up the kitchen a bit, but there is no good substitution for it.
    Kristen M. March 18, 2020
    Yes, Charles showed us this variation when he came in for our video shoot and we loved how flexible it turned out to be (though I thought the original Food & Wine recipe was delicious, too).
    Daryna T. March 20, 2020
    I found this recipe in F&W back in the day and I've been making it for a long time. For me the key to getting the sauce to caramelize is cranking up the heat. YMMV depending on your BTUs but for some stoves medium-high may not be hot enough...

    PS, I had to laugh at the direction "taste and decide if you'd like more sauce" because I'd take a bath in this sauce. Don't skimp on the sauce, people! :) Enjoy and be well.

    (And I don't get