Vietnamese Caramel Chicken
4 servings
Adapted from The Slanted Door by Charles Phan. I tinkered with the recipe, mostly with the portion size. Although I think they have their place, chicken thighs, rather than boneless chicken breasts, are best to use here. I’ve tried it with all breast meat and the dish is less-appealing made with white meat. For those who insist, a good compromise would be a mix of dark and white meat. Palm sugar is available in Asian markets and online. It usually comes in disks, although it’s sometimes sold in tubs, which is harder to portion out. Indian markets carry jaggery, a cousin to palm sugar (sometimes made from sugar cane, and is a bit more stubborn to melt), could be used, although I recommend tracking down palm sugar.
For the caramel
8 ounces (235g) light brown palm sugar, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup (160ml) fish sauce
2 Thai chiles, sliced lengthwise
For the chicken
1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds (700g) boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 inch (5cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
3 medium shallots (about 2 ounces, total, 60g) shallots, peeled and sliced into rings
fresh cilantro, for garnish
1. To make the caramel, melt the palm sugar over low heat in a medium-to-large saucepan or skillet, stirring frequently (and breaking it up) to encourage it to melt. It’ll take about 10 minutes to liquefy completely. Similarly, you can place the palm sugar in a large glass heatproof measuring cup or bowl and melt the palm sugar in a microwave oven, which will take about 20 to 30 seconds.
2. When the sugar is melted and bubbling, remove from heat and gradually add the fish sauce into the liquefied palm sugar, while stirring. (If you have a hood fan, you may wish to turn it on before adding the fish sauce.) It may also bubble up a bit, so be careful. Add the chiles and set aside.
3. To cook the chicken, heat the oil in a medium-to-large sauté or wide braising pan, or regular-sized Dutch oven. Add the ginger and shallots and cook until they start to wilt, about 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the chicken and the caramel, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until the sauce is just simmering. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. (The original recipe said to cook the chicken for 20 minutes, but mine was done sooner.)

Serving: Serve the chicken with rice.

Storage: The chicken is best eaten right after it’s made. The sauce can be made up to one month ahead, and refrigerated. Rewarm until liquified before using.