Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp
This recipe for Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp was sent to me by one of my readers from San Diego — thank you, Kim! I took one look at it and knew it was going to be really good. Shrimp are quickly sautéed with garlic and onions and then simmered in a traditional Vietnamese caramel sauce made from fish sauce, brown sugar, scallions and cilantro. I made it and we literally scraped the pan clean.
The key ingredient in the dish is fish sauce, which is a dark, pungent liquid used in Southeast Asian cooking. I know it doesn’t sound or smell appetizing but have faith — when paired with the right ingredients, it adds wonderful depth and complexity to a dish. It’s used like soy sauce in Chinese cooking and has the taste of umami, which is best described as meaty or savory. Umami is actually considered the fifth primary taste sense following sweet, sour, salty and bitter. (Other umami-rich foods include anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan cheese and ketchup.) You can find fish sauce at Whole Foods, Asian markets and many large grocery store chains. If possible, buy a brand imported from Thailand or Vietnam.
As with any stir-fry, it’s best to have all your ingredients chopped and prepped before you start cooking.
Begin by combining the fish sauce, brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and water in a bowl and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan and cook the onions over medium-low heat until soft and translucent.
Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
Add the sauce and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through.
Toss in the scallions and cilantro, and serve.
The dish is intensely flavorful, so it goes best with steamed jasmine rice. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Combine the fish sauce, dark brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and water in a medium bowl and whisk until brown sugar is dissolved.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Do not brown.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just barely pink and still translucent in spots, a few minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture, turn heat down to medium, and simmer until shrimp are cooked through, a few minutes more. (Note: the sauce will be thin.) Off the heat, stir in scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.
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