Slow cooking fish is one of my favorite ways of cooking it. Vietnamese braised catfish, or cá kho tộ is an instant taste of home for me. The catfish is silky soft and incredibly rich. The sticky sweet and spicy sauce pairs incredibly with a bowl of hot rice.
Pin Vietnamese Braised Catfish (Cá Kho Tộ) to try later!
When I hear "braised" I think of long, slow cooked dishes that take all day to develop its flavors. My favorite part of making cá kho is how quickly it cooks. I love a good weeknight fish dinner, and if you come over on any weeknight, chances are I'll be eating this braised fish or my fried fish filets with curry and lemongrass.
I usually make this dish with catfish steaks. If your grocery store has whole catfish you can usually ask the employee at the counter to descale it and cut it into thick steaks for you. I find the fattiness of the catfish holds up well with this cooking method, and the bone in steaks keep the fish from falling apart.
You will need:
- catfish steaks
- fish sauce
- chili flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper
- neutral oil (I use avocado. Canola and vegetable oil also work)
- granulated sugar
See recipe card for quantities.
Arrange the catfish steaks in a single layer at the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot or high-walled pan. Find a pot that just fits every piece of fish snugly without any extra space.
Season the fish with salt, pepper, fish sauce, chili flakes, garlic. shallot and oil. You don't have to mix the fish up, just drizzle and sprinkle everything over the pieces as evenly as you can.
Begin cooking the seasoned fish on the stove over medium heat. Do not mix up the fish. Leave the seasonings sprinkled on top.
While the fish is cooking, begin to heat up granulated sugar on high heat.
The sugar will rapidly start to melt brown. When the sugar begins to bubble and turn from translucent to a dull color, pour warm water over it.
The water will sizzle and begin to boil away. Work quickly and pour the entire mixture on top of the cooking fish immediately.
Adjust your heat to keep the liquid on the catfish simmering. Cover your pot and simmer the fish until it's cooked through.
Uncover the fish and continue simmering until the liquid has evaporated to a thin sauce.
Hint: The sauce should coat the back of your spoon. If you like a more sauce, don't reduce the liquid as much. I like a thicker sauce.
Choose a fatty fish if you can't find catfish. Salmon steaks work well. Try to use steaks rather than filets.
The tộ in cá kho tộ is a clay pot that this dish is traditionally cooked in. It looks very similar to the heavy bowls Korean tofu soups are served in. If you order this at a Vietnamese restaurant, chances are it will come in a heavy clay pot. As you can see, it's not necessary to buy a special clay pot to enjoy Vietnamese braised catfish! Any heavy-bottomed pot or pan will do. I use a different one depending on how much fish I'm preparing. I like to make sure the fish is arranged snugly in the pan.
🍚 Serving suggestions
This dish is very rich, fatty and salty. It's traditionally served with pickled mustard greens and rice, as the brininess of the pickles cuts through the richness of the fish well. If you can't find pickled mustard greens, you can pair this dish with any green vegetable. I recommend cooking the vegetables plainly as to not overpower the fish.
This braised catfish works beautifully as a main dish in a traditional Vietnamese family meal. A family meal usually consists of rice (cơm), a vegetable dish (rau), a main protein, (món mặn), and a soup (canh). Try pairing this dish with any of my recipes in these categories to make your own family meal. Here's a suggestion for dining the Vietnamese way:
- Rau: Tofu Skin and Bok Choy Stir Fry
- Món Mặn: Vietnamese Braised Catfish (Cá Kho Tộ) (You're reading this recipe!)
- Canh: Crock Pot Pork Spare Rib Soup With Potatoes and Carrots (Canh Sườn Khoai Tây Cà Rốt)
🥡 How to make or store in advance
This dish is best eaten immediately. You can season the fish and keep it in the fridge overnight and braise it the next day when you're ready to eat it. Leftover cooked fish refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat it in the microwave (if you dare) or on the stove top. You can add a little bit of water to it if it seems dry.
👪 Serving size
This recipe serves four people when paired with a vegetable and rice.
Vietnamese Braised Catfish (Cá Kho) - A Recipe for Lent
- 2 lbs catfish steaks
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 shallot minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon Caola oil, or another neutral, high smoke point oil
- 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¾ cup water
- Arrange your fish steaks in one layer at the bottom of a heavy bottomed or stainless steel pot
- Sprinkle fish sauce, shallot, garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper and oil on top of the steaks.
- Put the fish undisturbed on the stove over medium heat. In the meantime, make your caramel.
- Make the caramel by heating sugar on high heat until it is a deep brown color. Be careful not to burn the sugar.
- Add water to sugar and immediately pour sugar water on top of fish.
- Bring to a simmer and cook covered for 15-20 minutes. Check every few minutes and add boiling water as necessary if the liquid boils away too quickly. If the sauce is too runny, cook uncovered until your desired amount of liquid has evaporated.
- Season again to taste with salt and pepper and serve with white rice and pickled mustard greens.
Nutrition info is an estimate only.
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