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. 

Kim from San Diego

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 shrimp to the pan and cook until just pink and still translucent in some spots.

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

Print Recipe
Servings: 4
Total Time: 30 Minutes


  • 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


  1. Combine the fish sauce, dark brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and water in a medium bowl and whisk until brown sugar is dissolved.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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  • Dan and I went to Saigon in 2010 and fell in love with the food. I cannot wait to make – looks amazing! Congrats on your beautiful new site!

  • This looks so amazing! LOVE your new site…

  • Michael

    This dish is awesome. YUM!

  • This is on the menu for next week. Looks delicious! Thank you so much!

  • Making this right now while the rest of the crew watches ftball. Never disappointed with your recipes! Thank you,

  • Wanda Jackson

    Are you supposed to refrigerate fish sauce after you have opened the bottle? I have had some for quite a while and I don’t know if it is still good, because I can’t decide if the smell is a bad smell or the regular smell of the fish sauce! This recipe sounds wonderful, would like to try.

    • Jenn

      Hi Wanda, Fish sauce does not need to be refrigerated and it keeps forever. It just smells awful. Yours is probably fine to use. Hope you enjoy!

  • Sharon

    I made this last night and it was really tasty.
    I served it with black beans and rice.

  • Elisabeth Chang

    This really was amazing. I made it tonight and my husband still won’t stop kissing on me, thanking me profusely for making such a good dinner. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Greg

    Had this last night and it was wonderful! Thanks for sharing and the wonderfully done site.

  • I saw this recipe…tried it tonight…and blogged about it, giving your site credit. It is an outstanding dish. Loved it, loved it!!!!

  • Erik

    This recipe is a perfect example of why you should follow the ingredient list closely. One thing missing and the result would be completely different.

    It’s delicious, my wife loves it, we’ve made it twice in the last week. I did 1.5 times the sauce so you have extra.

    One secret we discovered is it’s even better cold right out of the fridge. This summer we’re going to try it that way with orzo, a new cold summer salad.

  • tawni

    I made this last night with jasmine rice and it was delicious. One side note however, I reduced the amount of shrimp to just under a pound, but didn’t reduce the liquid amount, so the shrimps were more poached than carmelized. Also used light brown sugar as i didn’t have dark brown which I think is important for the carmelising. i was thinking of using the leftover with rice noodles. Thanks.

  • mary

    I´m a fan of anything with garlic and shrimp, but the extra flavours of the salty fish sauce, chilis and touch of sugar makes this a hit. Thanks for putting it up.

  • Beth

    A delicious delicious recipe (repetition on purpose) especially for those of us who have access to fresh (!) shrimp.

  • Gillian

    Making this for the third time for dinner tonight and I can’t wait!

  • Kim

    Glad to see so many positive reviews for this dish. Thanks, Jenn, for posting my recipe! :)

  • Sheila

    Quick to ix and delicious. Have made several times with great reviews.

  • Sara

    This was amazing! Don’t be intimated by this dish -super easy and delish!

  • cap

    looks so good! can’t wait to try it.

  • Shelley Thomas

    I will definitely be trying this in my near future.

  • Cherie

    We really enjoy trying new recipes, especially ethnic recipes. Can sometimes be intimidating using ingredients that are unfamiliar, like fish sauce, but the end result is usually so rewarding! This is one of those very rewarding recipes :o)

  • CareyS

    This is one of my favorite recipes on the site.
    It’s an honest, clean & simple meal. I follow it exactly as it’s so easy and the ingredient list is not lengthy.
    I use the frozen tailed and shelled shrimp from the freezer section and just thaw – so it’s even easier.
    I tend to have extra bags of shrimp in the freezer, so if I’m at a loss of what to make for dinner, this is a go-to as I normally have all the ingredients!

  • Tom T

    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to overcome the worlds love of sugar. But I made this w/o the brown sugar, going against Asian grain of something sweet, salty, and hot and enjoyed it much more. The recipe has a great balance of all the other flavors.

  • Bob C

    Awesome, Thank you Kim for sharing and you too Jenn for posting! Very quick and easy to prepare.

  • Meredith

    Have made this a few times and always a hit – we have even added broccoli- yum! And, yes, equally delicious 2nd day straight out of the fridge!

  • Dianne

    Great recipe – even better cold as part of a summer salads meal. Thanks!

  • Phoebe

    I made these last night. I used a combination of prawns and jumbo shrimp, just put the prawns in first, let them cook for about one minute then added the shrimp. Took it to a party and it was a total hit!

  • Josh

    Made this a few moments ago, it was fantastic! i served with fried rice and steamed vegetable dumplings

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