Ultimate Guide to Ca Hoi Kho Recipe: Vietnamese Caramelized Salmon

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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Imagine a dish that brings together the richness of salmon with the deep, caramelized flavors of traditional Vietnamese cooking. You’re about to dive into the world of Cá Hồi Kho, a comforting and savory dish that’s a staple in many Vietnamese households. This dish isn’t just about tantalizing your taste buds; it’s a beautiful blend of culture and culinary artistry that showcases the versatility of salmon.


To create your own Cá Hồi Kho, gather these ingredients, carefully measured to maintain the balance and authenticity of the flavors:

  • Salmon fillets: 1.5 pounds, skin removed, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Garlic: 3 cloves, finely minced
  • Shallots: 2 large, thinly sliced
  • Ginger: 1-inch piece, julienned
  • Fish sauce: 3 tablespoons
  • Caramel sauce (Nước màu): 2 tablespoons
  • Sugar: 1 tablespoon
  • Black pepper: ½ teaspoon, freshly ground
  • Green onions: 3 stalks, chopped into 1-inch lengths
  • Fresh chili: 1, sliced (optional for extra heat)
  • Vegetable oil: 2 tablespoons
  • Water: ¼ cup

Arrange these ingredients in the order listed to streamline your cooking process and make preparation smoother. Be sure you have everything on hand before starting to cook to capture the true essence of Cá Hồi Kho.

Required Tools and Equipment

To excel in making Cá Hồi Kho, investing in the right tools and equipment is crucial. This setup not only simplifies the cooking process but also ensures that the flavors meld perfectly, staying true to the traditional Vietnamese cooking style.

Cooking Vessel

Choose a heavy-bottomed pan or a clay pot for cooking Cá Hồi Kho. The thick base of these vessels ensures even heat distribution, preventing the fish from sticking or burning during the caramelization process. A clay pot is especially ideal as it preserves the moisture within the dish, making the salmon tender and flavorful.

Kitchen Essentials

  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Precision is key, so having a set of measuring spoons and cups will guide you in adding the exact quantity of ingredients like fish sauce, caramel sauce, and sugar.
  • Knife: A sharp chef’s knife is necessary for finely chopping the garlic, shallots, and ginger.
  • Cutting Board: Use a durable board for prepping your ingredients.
  • Stirring Spoon or Spatula: You’ll need a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula for stirring, to prevent scraping the pan or pot.
  • Lid for the Cooking Vessel: A lid is essential to cover the pot, allowing the ingredients to simmer and infuse under low heat.
  • Bowls: Have a few medium-sized bowls handy for holding your prepped ingredients before they go into the pot.
  • Stove: A quality stove with adjustable heat settings is crucial for managing the gentle simmer required to perfect Cá Hồi Kho.

By gathering these tools and equipment before you begin cooking, you ensure a smooth and enjoyable cooking experience, bringing this traditional Vietnamese masterpiece to life in your kitchen.


Prepare your workspace by arranging all the necessary tools and ingredients mentioned previously. This setup ensures a fluid cooking experience, letting you focus solely on the flavors and techniques that make Cá Hồi Kho so distinct.

Cleaning the Fish

Start by rinsing your salmon under cold running water to remove any residual scales or impurities from the surface. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, ensuring it’s completely free of moisture which helps in the marinating process. If your salmon is whole, use a sharp knife to fillet it, then cut the fillets into uniform pieces, about 2 inches each. This consistency is crucial for even cooking and flavor absorption.

Marinating the Fish

In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients to create your marinade:

  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Place the salmon pieces into the bowl, ensuring each piece is well-coated with the marinade. Let the salmon marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or for optimal flavor absorption, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 hours. This marination period allows the fish to imbibe the savory, sweet, and spicy flavors, which are hallmark to Cá Hồi Kho.

Cooking Instructions

Now that your salmon is marinated and ready, it’s time to cook it to perfection. Follow these detailed steps to bring out the rich flavors of the Cá Hồi Kho.

Cooking the Fish

  1. Heat the Cooking Oil: In a large skillet or frying pan, pour about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat it over medium heat.
  2. Sear the Salmon: Place the marinated salmon fillets in the hot oil. Let them sear without moving them for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until a golden crust forms. This searing locks in the flavors.
  3. Lower the Heat: Once both sides of the salmon are seared, reduce the heat to low. This will allow the salmon to cook thoroughly without burning.
  1. Combine Ingredients: While your salmon is cooking, start preparing the sauce. In the same pan, add a tablespoon of oil if needed and sauté some finely chopped garlic and shallot until they turn slightly golden and fragrant.
  2. Add Remaining Marinade: Pour the remaining marinade into the pan along with 1 cup of water. Stir to mix and bring the mixture to a simmer.
  3. Simmer: Let the sauce simmer for about 5-7 minutes, allowing it to thicken slightly. Stir occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Finish the Dish: Once the sauce has thickened, gently place the seared salmon back into the pan. Spoon some of the sauce over the fillets and let them simmer together for another 2-3 minutes. This final simmering helps the fish to absorb the flavors more deeply.

By carefully searing the fish and simmering it in the homemade sauce, you ensure that each bite of Cá Hồi Kho is infused with the savory, sweet, and slightly spicy notes characteristic of this traditional Vietnamese dish.

Assembling the Dish

After you have seared the salmon and simmered the sauce, it’s time to bring all the components of your Cá Hồi Kho together. Assembling the dish properly is crucial to ensure that the flavors meld beautifully and the presentation is appealing.

Layer the Salmon and Sauce

  1. Begin by selecting a clean, heat-resistant serving dish. Arrange the seared salmon fillets in a single layer at the bottom of the dish.
  2. Pour the simmered sauce gently over the salmon fillets, ensuring each piece is well-coated. The garlic and shallot bits from the sauce should be evenly distributed across all the fillets.

Simmer for Full Flavor Infusion

  1. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil to trap the heat and moisture. This step is vital as it allows the salmon to slowly soak up all the savory and sweet flavors of the sauce.
  2. Place the covered dish on a stove over low heat and let it simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes. Check occasionally to ensure the sauce is not overheating or sticking to the bottom of the dish.
  1. After simmering, remove the dish from the heat and let it sit covered for an additional 5 minutes. This resting period helps the flavors to further penetrate the salmon.
  2. Garnish with freshly chopped green onions and a sprinkle of black pepper for an extra layer of flavor and a pop of color.

Serving Suggestions

Once your Cá Hồi Kho is ready, brimming with the beautifully melded flavors of garlic, shallots, and fish sauce, it’s time to think about how to serve this standout dish. Ensuring it is presented in the most appetizing manner not only heightens the eating experience but also honors the cultural richness it represents.


  • Steamed Jasmine Rice: The subtlety of steamed jasmine rice makes it a perfect companion to the rich and flavorful Cá Hồi Kho. The rice will soak up the delicious sauce and balance the strong flavors of the fish.
  • Vermicelli Noodles: Opt for plain boiled vermicelli noodles if you prefer a lighter pairing. This choice is especially appropriate if you’re serving Cá Hồi Kho during warmer months.
  • Fresh Vegetables: Consider a side of lightly sautéed greens like bok choy or spinach. The freshness and slight crunch of the vegetables provide a nice contrast to the tender, flavorful salmon.
  • Pickled Vegetables: A side of Vietnamese-style pickled vegetables such as carrots and daikon radishes can enhance the meal with its tangy and refreshing taste.
  1. Choose the Right Dishware: Use a shallow, wide bowl or a deep plate that can beautifully display the salmon and accommodate some sauce without looking overcrowded.
  2. Layering: Carefully place the salmon pieces at the bottom, slightly overlapping if you have more than one layer. Drizzle the caramelized sauce generously over the fish to ensure it seeps into every layer.
  3. Garnishing: Sprinkle finely chopped green onions and a dash of freshly ground black pepper over the top. For a pop of color, add a few sprigs of fresh cilantro or slices of red chili, if you enjoy a bit of heat.
  4. Serve Hot: Cá Hồi Kho is best enjoyed hot. Make sure to serve it immediately after cooking to savor the full spectrum of its flavors.

By following these suggestions, you turn the serving of Cá Hồi Kho into an experience that complements its exquisite taste and deep cultural roots, making each meal not just nourishing but also a testament to the rich culinary traditions of Vietnam.

Make-Ahead Tips

Preparing Cá Hồi Kho ahead of time can make your cooking experience smoother and enhance the flavors in your dish. Here are some tips to efficiently prep and ensure a delicious meal.

Marinate the Salmon Overnight

Begin by marinating the salmon. The longer the salmon marinates, the more it absorbs the rich blend of flavors. Prepare your marinade mix comprising fish sauce, brown sugar, minced garlic, and black pepper. Coat the salmon pieces thoroughly, then store them in an airtight container or a sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator overnight. This step will deepen the dish’s robust flavors.

Prepare Accompaniments in Advance

To save time and streamline your cooking process, prepare the accompaniments a day before. Cook the jasmine rice and keep it in the refrigerator; it can be quickly reheated just before serving. Similarly, the vermicelli noodles can be boiled, drained, and stored in an airtight container. If you’re including pickled vegetables, preparing them a day ahead will enhance their taste, allowing the pickling liquid to infuse more deeply.

Pre-cook the Caramel Sauce

The caramel sauce, crucial for achieving the unique sweet and savory glaze of the Cá Hồi Kho, can be made ahead. Mix sugar with a small amount of water, heat it until the sugar dissolves and turns golden. This pre-made sauce can be refrigerated and warmed up when you start cooking the dish, saving you preparation time and ensuring consistency in flavor.

By preparing several components of Cá Hồi Kho in advance, you can minimize last-minute cooking stress and focus more on enjoying the meal and the company.


Ready to dive into the rich flavors of Cá Hồi Kho? You’ve got everything you need to whip up this delightful dish that’s sure to impress. Whether it’s a quiet dinner at home or a festive gathering remember it’s all about enjoying the process as much as the meal itself. So go ahead give your salmon the Vietnamese treatment and savor each flavorful bite. Happy cooking!

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