Failed making vietnamese braise sauce

Joined Mar 4, 2018

Enthusiastic home cook here who loves trying any and all culinary techniques and methods. I have an octopus sitting in my fridge waiting for the sous vide tomorrow to give you an idea of the things I like to try.

Ran into a slight issue last night and was hoping someone could shed some light on where I went wrong. It was a braised caramel and lime chicken, a vietnamese dish. First step said to heat skillet to medium high and add 1 tbsp coconut water and 1/2c white sugar and stir 3 mins until it starts turning mahogany in color and then stop stirring and use the pan to roll the sauce around. Well I tried it but the coconut water was evaporating faster than it would take to get any color change at all and I'd end up with several really hard chunks of sugar once most of the liquid was gone. I would add another tbsp of coconut water and try again but it never changed color and I feel the dish was missing out on not only color but the darker sauce that ended up as a glaze on the chicken. My first thought was a typo asking for just a tbsp of coconut water but I don't know. The dish came out just OK but I'd like to try it again but come up with a way of browning that sauce first. Thanks for any input!



Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
How long did you cook it? You can make a caramel dry as well. Here's a basic video on caramel.
Last edited:
Joined Sep 26, 2017
The coconut water has to completely evaporate for the colour to darken. Do not keep adding more liquid.

You can, however, start with more coconut water at the beginning, it doesn't really matter.

The more liquid you have at the beginning, the longer your solution will take to change colour, but at the same time, it will prevent the chunky sugar pieces you experienced.
Joined Sep 5, 2008
I've been taught to never stir a caramel in the making to avoid crystallization. You can softly swirl the pan if you need to.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
I would start the sugar by itself in a pan over low heat until it melts and reaches the mahogany color. Remove from the heat and add the coconut water, being careful because it will bubble and some of the sugar will harden up. Return to low heat to dissolve and incorporate the hardened pieces in a homogeneous sauce.
Joined Mar 1, 2017
Next time, try using brown sugar instead of white sugar. It accomplishes the same task and is far less involved.

Here is a good recipe.

4 chicken thighs, skin on (bone in or boneless - I prefer boneless and butterflied)
1.5c brown sugar
1c fish sauce
1/2 cup sake or rice wine vinegar
1/2c coconut milk
2 tbsp pureed garlic
4 tbsp pureed ginger
1 fresh red chili, roughly chopped
1/4c chopped cilantro
1/4c sliced green onion
1/2 tsp orange zest
(unsalted roasted peanuts and chopped pineapple optional :) )

Combine everything in a bowl except the cilantro, green onion and orange zest. Dealer's choice on whether or not to marinade the chicken.

Heat about 1tbso of peanut oil in a heavy skillet. Cast iron is sheer perfection. When the oil is hot, add the chicken skin side down and let brown slightly. After about 4 or 5 minutes, turn the chicken. Add about 1/2 of the brown sugar liquid and chopped chilies (and pineapple and peanuts if you are using them) to the pan and let simmer. Make sure the pan is not too hot or the liquid will evaporate before the chicken cooks through If that happens, turn down the heat and reconstitute with a touch of water or chicken broth.

When the liquid in the pan has reduced to about 1/2 the volume, turn the chicken once more, reduce your heat to med/low and add the remaining brown sugar liquid and let reduce. Don't be faint hearted here. You want that brown sugar liquid to get deep brown and thick. So, let it roll. When the liquid is thick and will coat a spoon, remove the chicken from the pan.

To server, sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, green onion and orange zest.

This dish will pair beautifully with a Chenin Blanc, a not dry Riesling or even a Moscato. If you choose to use the chilies, then, I would even suggest a Syrah that is no more than 14% ABV.

Enjoy! :)
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