If you’re envisioning a sweet syrupy sauce to drizzle on top of ice cream and cakes, sorry friends, this is not that recipe. This caramel sauce is made by cooking sugar to a dark molasses-like consistency that is slightly sweet and slightly bitter. The sauce is then used to marinate meats or to add subtle flavor and color to dishes during cooking. In Viet cooking, you see this sauce used most often in braised “kho” dishes as this gentle cooking technique is low and slow and allows the essence of the caramel sauce to permeate the food.
If you’ve followed my earlier posts, you may have noticed that I’ve shared several braised dishes traditionally requiring this caramel sauce. I, however, have shared shortcuts and substitutes for the caramel sauce. Why you ask? Well, the reason is because this seemingly simple ingredient is quite tricky to make. The sauce itself doesn’t take long to make but, the success of this recipe is all in the timing. Cooking the sugar to achieve just the right color is tough especially if you’re not familiar with how quickly sugar burns once it reaches a certain stage. Cook it for too long and the sauce is bitter and burnt tasting. Undercook the sugar and the sauce is too light and isn’t balanced in flavor, more sweet than bitter. I do want to say there is an element of personal preference with this recipe. Some people prefer a darker, more bitter than sweet sauce while others prefer more sweet and less bitter. My recommendation is to practice and make a sauce that you like and then write down the time (to the seconds) and use that every time. Enjoy!
A few notes on the recipe
A word of caution, cooking with sugar can be a dangerous thing. Sugar is extremely hot when cooked to this stage so be really careful not to get any of the sauce on your skin. Don’t touch the sauce with your fingers and be sure to use heat-proof utensils when stirring the sauce. Also make sure to allow the sauce to cool adequately before transferring and storing.
Use a large saucepan to cook the sugar. The sugar can boil quickly and overflow if you’re not watching closely. If the sauce boils over, it’s one big mess to have to clean up. So save yourself the hassle and use a generously sized pan.
Add hot water to the caramel sauce instead of cold water. Depending on how hot the caramel sauce is, adding cold water could cause it to bubble vigorously and spill out of the pan.
Pour the sauce into a clean jar and then store in your pantry. The sauce is good for up to a year.
Love braised dishes? Check out some of my other recipe posts:
Coca-Cola Braised Pork and Eggs (Thit Kho Trung) – In this recipe redo we substitute Coca-Cola for the caramel sauce. If you’d like to use your homemade caramel sauce for this recipe, substitute the Coke with water and then add 2 tsp of caramel sauce.
Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To) – In this recipe shortcut , we make just enough caramel sauce for the recipe. If you have the caramel sauce handy, just omit the sugar and add 1-2 tsp of caramel sauce.
Braised Seitan and Vegetables (Mi Can Kho Chay) – substitute 1 tsp of sugar with 1 tsp of caramel sauce for added flavor and color.
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp water
1/4 cup hot water
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 3 Tbsp of water. Set the heat to Medium and start cooking the sugar.
After 3 minutes the sugar starts to melt and bubble. Give it a stir and continue cooking.
After 4 minutes the sugars starts to turn a golden brown color.
After 6 minutes the sauce becomes a rich brown color.
After 7-8 minutes the sauce turns from a dark brown to a deep red color and the sugar starts to smoke. Cook for another 30-45 seconds allowing the color to deepen further. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool on the stove for approximately 10 minutes.
If the sauce starts to bubble vigorously and the sugar smells like it’s burning, carefully immerse the bottom of the pan into a bowl of water to stop the sugar from cooking further. Allow the pan to cool in the water for about 5 minutes and then return to the stove.
Add the hot water to the sauce and stir together over Medium heat. When the sauce starts to boil again, turn off the heat and continue stirring for another minute.
Allow the sauce to cool for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a clean jar. The sauce will thicken up further as it cools.
Store in a cool dry place.
Yields: 3/4 cup
Check out the Caramel Sauce Color Slide and compare with your sauce.
#2 The sauce is a dark reddish brown color. It was cooked a tad too long. The taste will be more bitter than sweet.
#3 This sauce is a beautiful dark amber and is the desired result. Notice how thick the sauce is as well.
#4 This sauce is a honey color and is too light indicating it was not cooked enough. It will be sweet like a traditional caramel sauce and will be missing the bittersweet taste. (This sauce is better suited for flan.)
#5 This sauce is again nice and thick and a lovely dark amber color. This is the how we want our caramel sauce to look.