Cooking for One

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken From Charles Phan

May 28, 2021
24 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken From Charles Phan
  • 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
  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.

  • Andrea Young
    Andrea Young
  • Gregg Crosby
    Gregg Crosby
  • The Pontificator
    The Pontificator
  • trish
  • Greg Crawford
    Greg Crawford
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

36 Reviews

suburban_mom January 14, 2024
I made this years ago using the Food and Wine recipe and was so happy to find it here. I used all the sauce and added broccoli. No rice. I cranked up the heat to reduce and caramelize the sauce. I think that is the key to the recipe.
June September 21, 2023
I didn't care for this at all. The sauce didn't thicken (not sure why I thought it would, but I did) and was very, very sweet.
Andrea Y. January 25, 2023
I want to chime in on this conversation. I've had this recipe pinned for a while and last night I finally made it. I was skeptical. The ingredient list isn't long, and for sure the fish sauce makes your house smell funky (my 14yo son came to the front of the house and said, "It stinks!"). Making the sauce, then cooking the chicken in it, didn't look promising partially because neither takes much time. But when I took the first bite, I thought ahhhh, I see why this is so popular! It tastes fantastic and is one of those cases where looks belie the final result, and the combination of a few familiar ingredients transforms into something magical. Really, really good. This will go into the rotation.

For full transparency, modifications I made were using chicken breasts instead of thighs (because I do NOT like chicken thighs). I used 1.5 lbs chicken breasts, and used the entirety of the sauce recipe as written. It did not seem too salty to me; it was perfectly seasoned as written.
PamelaD November 2, 2022
This was delicious. I made it as written, except for the chicken. I used chicken breast tenders as my husband prefers white meat. The sauce was so wonderful: sweet, salty, savory and spicy. It was a tiny bit salty (for me, in a good way), but just a little. I used almost all of the sauce because chicken breast are less juicy than thighs. Yum.
howiff July 31, 2021
I am definitely going to try this. For those looking for a green addition, I highly recommend a korean spring onion salad with gochugaru sauce. It is very simple and adds your green in the same theme.
brontehealy July 31, 2021
Not a review but a question: Has anyone made this w/ bone-in thighs? Would you cook them skinless and how about an estimate on timing as a forethought?
james August 2, 2021
That is the way I have prepared this keeps the thighs flavorful and moist....bone in makes sure the inside of the thighs is cooked and it slips out readily.
June September 21, 2023
I had bone-in, skin-on thighs. I removed the skin and made the recipe as directed. When the thighs were cooked through, I removed the meat from the bones and simmered a few more minutes in the sauce. I actually did not care for this. I thought the end result would be thick and sticky and spicy and sweet. Not sure why I thought that, but I did. The sauce did not thicken, at all, and was terribly sweet, to me. I was really disappointed.
Gregg C. May 28, 2021
This is easy, delicious and the taste is just like the actual dish from the Slanted Door. It was "Claypot Chicken" on the menu and was always a favorite. Nice to be able to make it at home
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!
scoot87501 July 31, 2021
You state this is a real winner but now you are make many changes-does not make sense!
June August 10, 2022
I understand where you're coming from on those who make substantial substitutions and omissions to the recipe's ingredients and/or major changes to techniques. On the other hand, and especially since Food52 has options for comments, questions, and/or ratings, I rather enjoy - and find helpful - others' experiences with the recipe. In this particular instance, trish made the recipe as written, but plans to adjust the sweetness and heat to taste next time. Assessing those minor adjustments as 'many changes' seems a bit harsh.
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!
howiff July 31, 2021
Fish sauce is the liquid of the gods. Anything with anchovies is a winner. Salty, pungent, fishtastic.
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!