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
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 4
skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
canola oil, divided
dark brown sugar
fish sauce (nam pla)
shallot, thinly sliced
one-inch piece of fresh ginger, julienned (or more)
fresh Thai chiles, halved, or dried red chiles
coarsely ground black pepper
cilantro sprigs (optional)
Steamed jasmine rice for serving
- In a bowl, combine the chicken, 1 teaspoon of the oil and a good pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve with rice.
- Leftover sauce can be stored airtight in the refrigerator for more quick dinners.