Vietnamese Caramel Sauce - This sauce is a key ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Adds the perfect amount of sweetness to a savory dish!

This Vietnamese Caramel Sauce is a key ingredient used in the Gooey Ginger Chicken recipe that we shared yesterday!

This caramel sauce is a standard ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes, and it is typically prepared ahead of time and stored at room temperature in the pantry for use as needed.  We should point out that this is not the kind of dessert caramel sauce that you would pour over ice cream.  Rather it has a sweet and deep nutty taste for use in cooking more savory dishes rather than for dessert dishes.

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce - This sauce is a key ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Adds the perfect amount of sweetness to a savory dish!

Like yesterday’s gooey ginger chicken recipe, this Vietnamese caramel sauce was adapted from the cookbook called The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking – but we actually completely revised the cooking instructions here to ensure that you see better results!  Although the ingredients are simple – water and sugar – it actually took us a few attempts to get this caramel sauce right!

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce - This sauce is a key ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Adds the perfect amount of sweetness to a savory dish!

Like any caramel recipe – you MUST watch the sauce very closely as the sugar starts to turn darker in color.  You want the sauce to turn a beautiful dark amber color – but you don’t want it to burn!  We’ve included a few tips and tricks of our own in the instructions to help ensure that your caramel sauce turns out perfectly!

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Vietnamese Caramel Sauce - A Family Feast

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup

Description

The perfect caramel sauce reaches a deep amber color while still having the perfect amount of moisture in the sauce to be a thick but pourable consistency. If the water evaporates before the sauce browns, the sauce will just crystalize. You can sometimes recover from this by adding a little more hot water and allowing the crystalized sugar to dissolve back into the liquid. Then keep cooking until the sauce turns brown. The trick we have learned is to get the caramel to turn brown before the water evaporates. We use the ice water to cool the pot down while the sauce cooks to ensure that the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup hot water
  • Ice cold tap water and ice cubes to fill a shallow pan
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup tap water

Instructions

  1. Heat a tea kettle or small pan with water. You will be using ½ cup of this hot water later in the recipe. Keep this hot water on the back burner of your stove.
  2. Also have a pan of ice cold water nearby with ice cubes. (This will be used if the sauce starts to turn too dark and you need to cool the pan off a bit before continuing.)
  3. In a stainless steel sauce pan (do not use a nonstick pan) mix all of the sugar and ¼ cup of tap water and bring to a boil stirring just to combine, then turn heat down to a simmer. Once it starts to boil, DO NOT STIR this mixture at all. It must not be touched for the full cooking time. (We learned this the hard way; three times!) If you stir, it will not caramelize so just let it sit. Set the timer for ten minutes and keep your eyes on it. It will start to turn amber in color. If it looks like it is turning too dark on one side and not the other, just swirl the pan a bit but again do not let anything touch the mixture. If sugar crystals form on the inside of the pan, you can brush them down with a wet pastry brush but again, do not let the brush touch or disturb the mixture.
  4. As the sauce begins to turn brown – at this point you need to watch it VERY closely! Over the next five minutes or so it will turn darker and darker until finally it is dark amber in color (almost to the point of burning, but pull it from the heat just before it gets too dark) and a syrupy consistency. If it turns too brown too quickly, set the saucepan in the pan with the ice bath to cool then back on burner to finish.
  5. As it reaches the correct dark amber color, turn off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be molten hot so do not touch the spoon! Now very carefully add the ½ cup of hot water but stand back, it will bubble and splatter! Stir the water in and then let the mixture cool to room temperature. At this point the sauce will be thick and amber in color, but it will not solidify due to the water added at the end.
  6. Store unused sauce in a tightly covered container at room temperature.

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    Comments

  • Omar wrote:

    Where’s the fish sauce & tamarind paste? Looks like regular caramel. What makes this recipe Vietnamese?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Omar – Thanks for your question! I agree – those ingredients would add some fantastic flavors, especially if this sauce is being used in a savory dish. As we noted in the post, we adapted a recipe we found in a Vietnamese cookbook so your question might be better directed to the authors of the cookbook if you are questioning the authenticity. My guess is they wanted to create a caramel sauce recipe that could be used in many types of dishes? Like any recipe, feel free to adapt it to suit your tastes and how you plan to use it in your dish. Thanks for taking the time to write to us!

  • ed wrote:

    I coulnt get it to brown. Eventually it just turned into a hard white sugar brick. Not sure what I did wrong twice.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Ed – I’m very sorry you had a problem with the recipe and if it’s any consolation, we experienced the exact same issue twice before we got it right! If the water evaporates/boils off too quickly then it will just turn to that hard white sugar that you described. Our suggestion is to try lowering your heat and also try using a smaller pan. We used a wide shallow pan the first two times – but finally had success when we used a smaller, less shallow pan which allowed the sugar to basically melt into itself (then sugar finally started to brown and caramelize) without too much surface area allowing the water to evaporate. I hope that helps!

      • Ed wrote:

        Thanks for the reply. I thought maybe it was the opposite and increased the heat because the first couple times it took about 30 minutes to get to the white brick consistency. I was using a small saucepan. The last time I tried it, I turned the heat up thinking maybe I had the flame a little too low…That sure didn’t do it. Actually, it looked perfect, just like the pictures you have posted, each stage. But what actually happened is the whole mixture turned that beautiful caramel color because it burnt. Oh well, I ended up just making a regular chicken stir fry since I had pretty much exhausted my supply of sugar, LOL.

        • Martha wrote:

          Sorry again Ed!

  • Medeja wrote:

    I guess this sauce could be used for many delicious things 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      It sure can Medeja! I hope you give it a try!

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