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Vietnamese-Style Caramel Shrimp

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Large shrimp are quickly sautéed with garlic and onions and then simmered in a traditional Vietnamese caramel sauce.

Bowl of Vietnamese-style caramel shrimp over rice.

This caramel shrimp recipe 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 a winner. Large shrimp are quickly sautéed with garlic and onions and then simmered in a shortcut Vietnamese caramel sauce made from fish sauce, brown sugar, scallions, and cilantro. Every time I make it, my family literally scrapes the pan clean.

The key ingredient is fish sauce, a dark and pungent liquid used in Southeast Asian cooking. It adds wonderful depth and complexity to a dish. You can it at most large grocery stores, and don’t worry about buying a large bottle — it keeps forever in the pantry.

What you’ll need to make Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp

how to make Vietnamese caramel shrimp

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by whisking together the fish sauce, brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and water in a bowl and set aside.

Whisk in a bowl of fish sauce and seasonings.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan and cook the onions over medium-low heat until soft and translucent.

Onions cooking in a skillet.

Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.

Garlic in a skillet with onions.

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

On the stove

Add the sauce and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through.

almost done cooking

Add the scallions and cilantro.

Scallions and cilantro in a skillet with shrimp.

Stir to combine, then taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. The dish is intensely flavorful, so it goes best with steamed jasmine rice. Enjoy!

Bowl of Vietnamese-style caramel shrimp over rice.

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Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp

Large shrimp are quickly sautéed with garlic and onions and then simmered in a traditional Vietnamese caramel sauce.

Servings: 4 - 6
Total Time: 30 Minutes


  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • ⅓ 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.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 219
  • Fat: 11 g
  • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 8 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 22 g
  • Sodium: 1789 mg
  • Cholesterol: 191 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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  • Recipe delicious as is!

    • — Mary on February 27, 2024
    • Reply
  • Awesome! I loved how spicy it was for me but may need to temper it down a notch with kids. It was also so easy to make. Thank you!

    • — Lulu on June 16, 2023
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  • This was delicious! Will certainly make again. For those who are afraid to use fish sauce, try the Red Boat brand.

    • — BarbB on February 8, 2023
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  • This recipe was amazing. It reminded me of the recipe my Vietnamese brother in laws mother used to make that made me fall in love with the cuisine.

    • — Yvonne Crozier on September 23, 2022
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  • Whooooaaaa, 1/4 CUP of fish sauce is just WAAAAYYYYY too much for any dish. 1 tbsp is plenty for this dish. A little bit of fish sauce goes a long ways.

    • — Bad Kitty on July 31, 2022
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  • Made this for the first time last night and it is superb. Tonight I had a serving and it tasted even better for having sat in the fridge for 24 hours, the flavours having melded together. It is a perfect combination of hot, slightly sweet and tangy all in one. I have discovered the way to perfectly cooked shrimp also thanks to this recipe! It is uncomplicated and the ingredients are few and fairly simple, available and yet a perfect blend. I can’t get enough of this gorgeous flavour and plan to try it using beef or chicken.

    • — Janice Barner on June 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi! This recipe was “me going out on a limb”, in that I’ve made recipes that call for fish sauce (it’s been a minute but I’m thinking it was pad thai) and had less than authentic results. I have to say, THIS RECIPE IS A KEEPER! Just ask my family! I’m glad I risked the 2 lbs of shrimp- super easy as long as I pre-measure all ingredients and nobody interrupts me once the shrimp hit the pan…🤣 (Obviously make your rice in advance!)

    • — Hcm8932! on May 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this for my husband and I. We enjoyed it, especially me. He’s not a food lover like me, so as long as he eats it, that’s a thumbs up. I had read to use caution with the fish sauce, so I only used one teaspoon and it was perfect. Not too salty or sweet, just perfect. I made enough for 4 so we’ll have it again tomorrow. Shrimp only lasts in the fridge 3-4 days.

  • Absolutely outstanding, made it with fresh Thai chilis. Superb!

  • Hi, do you think I can substitute the shrimp for scallops? Thank you for all your wonderful recipes.

    • Sure, Mimi, that should work. Hope you enjoy!

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