Vietnamese Braised Fish (with Coconut Water and Caramel)

Quick and Easy Vietnamese fish recipe, rich, concentrated, caramelised flavour, perfect with some steamed rice and green vegetables.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Vietnamese Braised Fish
Vietnamese Braised Fish

This Vietnamese Braised Fish is traditionally cooked in a claypot and called Cá Kho Tộ. The last two syllables, refer to a claypot. This dish is the personification of the sweet and salty flavour combination found in much of East Asia and is very quick and easily made at home, with or without a claypot.

Vietnamese Braised Fish Recipe

It’s a very easy recipe, and can be made in a regular frying pan or wok. Whatever you have will work.

I’ve also simplified the recipe somewhat, by doing it all in one pot, starting with the caramel.

This is how we do it:

  1. We start by making some caramel (nước màu) by cooking water and sugar.
  2. Then we make the thick, sticky sauce by adding coconut water, flavourings and aromatics, and cooking it all down.
  3. And finally, the fish goes in to cook.

⇒ The final flavour is rich, concentrated with a strong savoury caramel.

Vietnamese Braised Fish
Look at all that caramelised sweet and salty sauce

How to serve this Vietnamese Braise Fish

It’s a fairly dry dish, there isn’t much sauce to go around, but whatever there is,  packs a punch. The thick, sweet and salty sauce doesn’t really need anything more than some plain white rice and lightly cooked greens or, my favourite, a tangy, Thai or Vietnamese style salad or salsa, like the ones below.

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I also make a simple Asian vegetable or chicken soup as an accompaniment, as the kids must have “wet rice”.

What Fish is the best to use in this recipe?

Catfish is the traditional and favourite for many when cooking this braised fish. Not all of us have easy access to catfish though. Any firm white fish will work well in this, like haddock, sea bass and monkfish.

But I love salmon in this. You’d think that a dish this flavoursome would only need a bland meat but I think salmon takes on strong flavours so well and while it is perfect eaten simply, rises to another level given the slightest encouragement.

Vietnamese Food

Now I simply adore Vietnamese food, much more so than Thai food. Don’t get me wrong, Thai food is a huge favourite too, but Vietnamese food, to me, is just slightly more complex in it flavours and aroma.

My kids are also huge fans of Vietnamese food and it’s always a joy watching them enjoying the different flavours on the table. The image below is of 3 of my kids on our last trip to Vietnam (2015).

Lunch off the Mekong river
Lunch off the Mekong river

Vietnamese Braised Fish Ingredients

Coconut Water

Unless you have access to fresh coconut water, shop bought, in a carton will do very nicely, but please make sure that it hasn’t got anything else apart from coconut water and perhaps 1% sugar, which I can’t seem to get away from.

Sweet Soy Sauce

Read more about soy sauces here.

Also known as Kicap Manis (Malay) or Ketjap Manis (Indonesian),  sweet soy sauce is sweet and syrupy because of the large amount of sugar added to it during fermentation.

If you don’t have access to this, just use the equivalent amount of dark soy sauce + a teaspoon of white or palm sugar. If you don’t have dark soy sauce, just omit and use the sugar. Yes, lots of sugar in this recipe! Both these soy sauces will be easily found at an Oriental shop.

Then finish it all off with Vietnamese Coffee!

How to make Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese Coffee with a phin

If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Merci.

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood


Vietnamese Braised Fish

Vietnamese Braised Fish

Quick and Easy Vietnamese fish recipe, rich, concentrated, caramelised flavour, perfect with some steamed rice and green vegetables.
4.98 from 43 votes
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Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 351kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor


  • 4 pieces salmon fillets
  • 50 g (¼ cup) white sugar
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) water
  • 250 ml (1 cup) coconut water
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ Tbsp sweet soy sauce
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2.5 cm (1") ginger
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 red chilli
  • dash of ground white pepper


Caramel and Coconut Water

  • Let’s start cooking with the caramel. Heat a large pan on high heat and add the sugar and water, swirling to mix the two.
  • When it comes to boil, lower heat to medium and leave it to cook for about 5-7 minutes until it thickens and turns a golden colour (not brown).

Aromatics (while the caramel is cooking)

  • Halve then thinly slice the onion
  • Finely chop the garlic.
  • Julienne (cut in thin strips) the ginger, chilli and spring onion. But split the spring onion into the white and green parts. We’ll be using the green strips as a garnish.

Let’s Cook the Salmon

  • When the caramel has taken on a golden colour, add the coconut water in, along with the fish and soy sauces.
  • Scatter the onions, garlic, ginger, white part of the spring onions and chilli all over, followed by the white pepper. Cook this down for 5 minutes, to allow it to thicken.
  • Place the salmon fillets on the sauce, increasing the heat slightly to medium high. Cook the salmon for about 3 minutes on each side, starting with the skin side up, (or longer) until it’s cooked right through. This will depend on the thickness of your fish. rather like the middle of the fish to be a little pink.
  • At the end of the cooking time, the liquid would have thickened considerably and you’ll have a sweet and thick caramelised sauce. In the last minute of cooking time, gently spoon some of this sauce over the fillets to colour the top.
  • Turn the heat off and scatter the green part of the spring onions all over and serve with some rice and vegetables, as described above.


Calories: 351kcal | Carbohydrates: 20.8g | Protein: 46.5g | Fat: 9.7g | Cholesterol: 102mg | Sodium: 1340mg | Potassium: 1086.4mg | Fiber: 1.7g
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6 thoughts on “Vietnamese Braised Fish (with Coconut Water and Caramel)”

  1. I’ve just tried this, it is excellent, the salmon is outstanding.
    I need more practise, I’ll definitely be making it again, my sauce was a little thin I think, and I needed to add a little salt at the table. All the julienne veg could be tasted individually. I loved it.

  2. Hi, this is really yummy. We made it last night, it was very easy to do. Hubby has asked to have it regularly. Thank you.

  3. Geoff Thomas

    This is an awesome recipe! Just can’t wait to try this at the weekend. Love all your exotic recipes, Lin

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