Vietnamese Clay Pot Fish

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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8

In this Vietnamese classic, two seemingly contradictory flavors—intensely sweet caramel and briny fish sauce—reach harmony by gently simmering together along with aromatic seasonings. Fish fillets, added during the final minutes of cooking, not only soak up the flavors but also acquire a deep, glossy mahogany color.


  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./125 g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) canola oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 1-inch (2.5-cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 small red or green Thai chiles or other small hot chiles, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1⁄4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) Asian fish sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) soy sauce
  • 2 lb. (1 kg) firm, mild white fish fillets such as black cod or halibut, cut into equal-sized pieces
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste


In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and 1⁄4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture turns caramel brown, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat and, taking care to avoid splatters, stir in 1⁄4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) water until thoroughly blended.

In a large, heavy pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, ginger and chiles and sauté until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce, caramel and 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to low, partially cover and cook until the sauce is syrupy but still very fluid, about 15 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, stir in 1⁄2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) water. Add the fish chunks, gently turning to coat with the sauce. Cover and cook, turning the fish once at the midway point, until opaque throughout, about 15 minutes. Season with pepper. Serve the fish in shallow bowls, drizzled with the sauce. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma One Pot of the Day, by Kate McMillan (Weldon Owen, 2012)

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