Vietnamese Shrimp in Coconut Caramel Sauce
Current mood: swooning over this shrimp in coconut caramel sauce, a surprisingly addictive savory-sweet dish from southern Vietnam. Andrea Nguyen clued us in to the comfort food when she published an easy recipe in her new cookbook, Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors.
“It’s delicious and it involves a nifty technique: Coconut water is reduced with other ingredients until it caramelizes a bit to create a lovely syrupy sauce,” Nguyen explains. “Vietnamese caramel sauce is stealthily employed in savory dishes to impart a lovely mahogany color and build savory-sweet depth.”
If you’re as curious as we were, break out your trusty skillet and tell the whole fam to come extra-hungry to dinner.
½ cup cane sugar
⅛ teaspoon unseasoned rice, apple or distilled white vinegar
1⅓ cups coconut water
1½ tablespoons sugar, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon Caramel Sauce
1½ tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
1 large shallot, halved and sliced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1¼ pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled, deveined and patted dry
Freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, green part only, thinly sliced
1. Make the Caramel: Fill a large bowl with water. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar and 2 tablespoons water. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar has nearly or fully dissolved.
2. Stop stirring and let the syrup bubble vigorously until it takes on the shade of light tea, 5 to 6 minutes. Cook until it is the color of dark tea, about 2 minutes. Cook, frequently picking up the saucepan and swirling the syrup, until a dark reddish cast sets in—the color of pinot noir—1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place the pan in the bowl of water to stop the cooking.
3. Leaving the pan in the water, pour ¼ cup water into the hot caramel. The sugar will seize up, which is OK. When the dramatic bubbling reaction stops, return the pan to medium-high heat and cook briefly, stirring to loosen and dissolve the sugar.
4. Make the Shrimp: In a medium bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of the caramel with the coconut water, sugar and fish sauce. Taste and add up to 1½ teaspoons of additional sugar or fish sauce to make sure it’s pleasantly salty-sweet. Set aside.
5. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. When the oil is barely shimmering, add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is pale blond, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut water mixture and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture is a bit thickened, slightly darkened and reduced to about ½ cup, 10 to 14 minutes.
6. Add the shrimp and continue cooking at a swift simmer, stirring frequently, until the shrimp curls up and cooks through and the sauce is slightly syrupy, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with lots of pepper and stir in the green onion. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to settle and deepen.