This is definitely one of the few dishes I can commit to eating every single day without getting bored from. It can only get better and better…

If you ever go to Vietnam, you’ll notice that the country is blessed with a long long sea coast that provides wonderful sources of seafood. There are also rivers, streams that supply such amazing culinary ingredients, one of which is fish. Fish has become a regular item on every Vietnamese family’s menu. It comes in all kinds and types, fresh, preserved, salted, and the most important and usual of all, fish sauce.

I’ve lived most of my life in Southern Vietnam, where the climate is just perfect for fresh water fish as well as salt water fish. I love and have tried many kinds of dish featuring fish, from cheap to fancy pricy, from Bún mắm (preserved fish noodle soup) to Cá khô (salted fish), from simple fried fish to complicated fish in sweet and sour soup. Among all fish dishes that I’ve tried, my all-time favourite is Cá kho tộ – claypot braised catfish. This is definitely one of the few dishes I can commit to eating every single day without getting bored from. It can only get better and better! Catfish lives in fresh water, and has no scale on the body, which is really wasy to clean and prepare. The freshly caught catfish, braised in caramelized fish sauce that coats and permiates the fish, offers soft and flaky texture. The complex taste of sweetness from the caramel, and the savoriness from the fish sauce  wakes up all your taste palates. The claypot works as a balanced and enhanced heat distributor to braise the fish to perfection. Combined with a little heat from pepper or chili pepper, it is also perfect for chilly days. This dish is definitely a year round winner!

When I came to Canada, I couldn’t find fresh catfish, and I still can’t. Catfish only habitates in warm climates and fresh water, which is nowhere to find in Canda. In fact, all of the catfish products I’ve encountered so far were imported from Asia. However, frozen fish seems to be not a bad substitute. I’ve attempted to make braised catfish many times with frozen catfish, and I have to say I’ve been quite pleased. Also, I don’t use claypot like the traditional way so I can’t achieve the high and even heat that I want, but it turns out good enough with normal pot or pan. Cast iron pot is considered very good for braising as well. Since I love this dish so much, I thought why wouldn’t I share this on my blog. The dish is easy to make, very pleasant to enjoy, and also promotes amazing and healthy Vietnamese cuisine. When it comes to Vietnamese cuisines, Phở is just a dot on the map. It’s time to spread the word!!!

Cooking time: 1 hour for marinating, and 1+ hour for braising
Servings: 4

– 1 pack of frozen catfish (5 – 6 pieces), left at room temperature.
– 1 tbsp vegetable oil
– 2 tbsp sugar
– 1/2 cup water
– 4 shallots, sliced
– 4 tbsp fish sauce
– 1 tbsp ground peppercorn
– 2 chili peppers, whole
– 4 tbsp diced spring onion


Fish is being marinating. The warm heat from the caramel
will lightly cook the fish

– First, put the oil and sugar in the middle of a pot. Turn the heat to medium and let the sugar melts to create caramel. Watch very carefully unti lthe caramel turns into dark golden brown color. Add the water in the pot to stop the caramelization and close the lit immediately. As water comes into contact with hot oil and melting sugar, it will creates scorching hot splash. Turn off heat and move the pot away from the hot stove, let cool to warm.

– Add to the caramel liquid: fish sauce, shalots, ground pepper, and chilies. Mix roughly. Add the fish and coat them with the sauce, let marinate for 1 hour.

– After the fish has been covered in the marinate for 1 hour, put the pot on high heat. Once the marinate boils up, turn the heat down to a less than medium and let braised for 30 minutes. Half cover with lid. Turn the fish once and let braised until the liquid vaporizes away and caramelizes again.

– Add in the spring onion and turn off heat. Transfer to a plate and serve, or just serve in the pot as is. This dish goes well with any type of veggie dish.


I broke the skin on the tail 🙁

– Use a big enough pot to lay the fish in one layer only. This is very important to achieve a well coated and evenly marinated fish.

– Please be extra careful when you add water to the heating caramel. Do not let the caramel become too dark at this stage, as the color will get darker while braising.

– Do not cover the pot while braising the fish, as we need to evaporate the marinating liquid. You can either cover half the pot with a lid to make sure the liquid won’t be reduced too fast, or adjust the heat and leave the pot open. Usually when we cook in claypot, we don’t cover the lid. Fish is quick to cook, so do not worry about the fish being raw when done.

– Before you turn the fish, make sure to taste the marinate to see if it’s good enough. Adjust it at that stage but remember: the liquid will vaporize and the taste will become stronger. Do not over season. Do expect to break the skin when turn the fish. It’s quite normal if you do not make this dish often.

I’m more than happy to hear from your feedback and experience 🙂

Bon Appetit !!!

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