Vietnamese Style Caramel Chicken Betty – 4-6 Servings
One would normally think of caramel as a very sweet sauce. But, when cooked to the bittersweet stage at 390°F, much of the sweetness transforms to a complex, delicious, much less sweet note. Cooking chicken in a combination of bittersweet caramel with Asian fish sauce has become one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes.
1½ - 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, cut to 1½” chunks
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
3/4 cup very hot water
1/4 cup fish sauce (preferably Three Crab or Red Boat brand)
2 tablespoons finely slivered, minced or grated fresh ginger
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch segments
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more or less to taste)
(Optional slices of red jalapeno or other medium hot pepper for color and added kick)
2 teaspoons cornstarch combined with 1 T water for a slurry
1 bunch Chinese broccoli (called gai-lan) or 2 bunches broccolini or any other green vegetable
(This tasty dish would be perfect served with white or brown rice)
Have the 3/4 cup very hot water ready (I like to just have it microwaved). Place 3 tablespoons water and sugar into a 1½ quart heavy saucepan (preferably a light color pot so it’s easier to see the color of the sugar/caramel as its cooking). Cook on medium high till sugar is dissolved and starts to boil. After a few minutes it will begin to turn a golden color. Turn heat down to medium low and continue to cook without stirring till it turns a dark molasses color, about 390°F–(do not leave pot unattended as the sugar can turn from the perfect molasses color to being burnt very quickly). When it just starts to smoke and before it turns any darker or burns, remove pot from heat and pour in the 3/4 cup hot water. The mixture of hot water and hot caramel will sputter and bubble up. When the bubbling slows down, place pot back on stove and reheat on medium while stirring till caramel dissolves and mixture is smooth.
Pour caramel mixture into a skillet and add fish sauce, ginger, and scallions, and pepper flakes and the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer (gentle slow bubbling), cover and continue simmering until chicken is cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes (when about halfway through cooking, turn the chicken pieces over, cover and finish cooking)
While chicken is simmering, place broccolini in boiling salted water and boil for about 2 minutes or so till the broccolini is tender but still crispy. Drain and set aside on a platter.
When chicken is done, remove from sauce and put on platter with the broccolini. Add sliced hot red pepper slices (if using) to sauce and reduce the sauce to about 1¼ cups. Stir the cornstarch slurry to recombine and pour into sauce. Heat till sauce returns to boil and is thickened. Spoon sauce over chicken and broccolini. (Serve over cooked white or brown rice)