Metro Weekly

Savor Recipe: Vietnamese Caramel Salmon

A very traditional sweet and savory caramel salmon recipe (that also works with chicken)

Vietnamese Caramel Salmon -- Photo: Craig Bowman
Vietnamese Caramel Salmon — Photo: Craig Bowman

Before the pandemic, I typically spent about half the year out of the country for work. When I’m traveling, I love to dive into the local cuisine.

If I have my way and the world returns to some kind of normal, Vietnam is at the top of my must-visit list. Until then, I’ll be making this very traditional sweet and savory caramel salmon (or chicken) any chance I get.


  • 1/4 cup white (or palm) sugar
  • 4 Tbsp coconut water, divided
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 Fresno or Serrano chilies (or jalapeño peppers), stemmed and sliced into thin rings
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds skinless salmon (or boneless, skinless chicken thighs) trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced


1. Prepare your mise en place by slicing your peppers, bruising your lemongrass, chopping your ginger, and slicing your scallions.

mise en

2. Remove the skin from your salmon filet and dice into 1½” pieces.


3. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the coconut water. Cook over medium-high, occasionally swirling the pan to help the sugar dissolve, until the caramel is dark golden brown, 4-6 minutes.

sugar and coconut water

4. Remove pan from the heat and add fish sauce along with remaining 2 tablespoons coconut water. The mixture will bubble and the caramel may harden in spots.

add fish sauce

5. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring until the hardened bits have dissolved. Add the chilies, lemon grass, ginger, and pepper, then cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

chilies, lemon grass, ginger, and pepper

6. Increase the heat to medium-high and mix in the cubed salmon, stirring often.

add cubed salmon

7. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salmon is opaque and the sauce thickens, 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard lemongrass, and stir in the lime juice. (Note: If using chicken, simmer the meat gently for 10 to 14 minutes until the sauce thickens and clings to the meat.)

simmer salmon

8. Transfer to a serving dish with steamed rice and sprinkle with the scallions.

Vietnamese Caramel Salmon -- Photo: Craig Bowman
Vietnamese Caramel Salmon — Photo: Craig Bowman

Questions? Text to Craig at 202-217-0996 or email

Check Out More Recipes:

Over-the-Top Strawberry Cupcakes

Creamy Turkey Noodle Soup

Real Deal Gumbo

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