Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp

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

vietnamese caramel shrimp

This recipe for Vietnamese caramel 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 a winner.

Large 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. 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.  I know it doesn’t sound or smell that appetizing but have faith: when paired with the right ingredients, it adds wonderful depth and complexity to a dish. You can it at most large grocery stores, Whole Foods, or Asian grocers. 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

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

how to make vietnamese caramel shrimp

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

onions cooking

Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.

how to make vietnamese caramel shrimp

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.

how to make vietnamese caramel 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!

how to make vietnamese caramel shrimp

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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

Ingredients

  • 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, thawed if frozen
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions

  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

Powered by Edamam

  • 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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Reviews & Comments

  • Hi. I made this yesterday, it was ok. I used all the ingredients exactly how tou had them . I even used the same fish sauce you used but it was way too salty. My husband couldn’t even eat it. Flavor was good just way too salty for us. I’m guessing it was that fish sauce. Thanks

    • — Nancy on April 25, 2019
    • Reply
  • The sauce has a great flavor. Previous reviews said it was salty so I shorted the fish sauce just a little. Also wanted the sauce to stick to the shrimp better so I added 1 tsp cornstarch to the sauce before adding it to the heat. I may add a little more next time. I think these are minor changes. The recipe is solid….as usual with Jen’s cooking.

    • — Janice Jordan on January 28, 2018
    • Reply
  • This was our first attempted recipe using Fish sauce. Followed this easy and quick recipe exactly as written…absolutely incredible flavors! We served the shrimp over rice with steamed brocolli on the side. The shrimp are easy to overcook and make rubbery. We used 16-20 count shrimp and found the following cook time perfect: Stir the shrimp in with onions & garlic x 1 minute-they start to turn pink-then add the sauce and simmer x 2 minutes only. Then off the heat, add scallions and cilantro-serve immediately. Shrimp were snappy and delicious-not rubbery.

    • — Jan on December 3, 2017
    • Reply
  • Easy to make; and we added extra shrimp & extra brown sugar, scallions & cilantro to taste. I wanted to say THANKS for the suggestion to pair it with the Jasmine rice!!! Not too salty at all, wonderful meal to put into rotation. THANKS

  • This is so unbelievably fast and easy. And different from the norm. And I had everything in the pantry, even the fish sauce. (Mostly because I got it to make a quinoa salad that I found on your site as well. 5 Stars on that). Like another reviewer, I too found it a little salty, but not so much that I wouldn’t make it again. Next time I’ll probably add a little more sugar and maybe cut back on the fish sauce. Otherwise, very good.
    Gotta say, really liking the recipes I find here. Easy, delicious, and full of ingredients I actually have on hand. I don’t want to go out and buy a ton of things for one recipe. Can’t wait to try more.

  • This was wonderful. The flavors are scrumptious. It’s easy to make and assemble. I loved it. Will be made frequently. Halved the recipe, some for tonight, some for lunch tomorrow. Mmmm. Next time, I plan to cut the brown sugar amount in half and see how it goes as I’m looking to lower my sugar intake, and I’m fairly certain this will still have great flavor without that much sugar. Make it!!

  • Delicious!!! I was looking for a low calorie shrimp dish, so I used less oil and when the onions started to stick I added some water. I then added broccoli (because I’m on a diet) and when they started to soften, I added the shrimp, then continued to follow the recipe. I increased the fish sauce, chili peppers, and water because of the broccoli. It was so delicious! I was surprised that this sauce was so flavorful. Truly delicious, a definite keeper!!

  • This is a delicious dish and was quite quick to make (once everything was prepped). Except for using a pound instead of 2 of shrimp, I followed the recipe exactly as written using the same brand of fish sauce that Jenn did.
    I did not find the dish too salty at all, and felt the flavors balanced out very nicely. My husband loved the dish as well.

  • I made this and only used 2 table spoons of fish sauce and that was more than enough for us, I did however add more chili flakes and some lime. I tried making this for my Vietnamese boyfriend and he asked me what it was because he had never seen it before

    Flavor was great but I guess it was my fault for assuming it was something authentic

  • This dish was super yummy and QUICK – again another good weeknight dinner recipe. I’m excited to try it cold as mentioned in other reviews!

  • We used Red Boat fish sauce and added fresh ginger (added with garlic) and par-boiled broccoli (added to shrimp for last few minutes) to make a wonderful one dish entree over rice.

  • Worked late and made this for dinner tonight. Was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to throw together in just a few minutes. It was a great meal to end the day with. 🙂 Loved it right out of the pan. Looking forward to serving as a cold dish as others have mentioned.

  • Made this recipe for dinner last night with jasmine rice and it was excellent. Even my 5 year old loved it. Thank you!

  • Hi Jenn, love your blog. This was the first recipe that was just “ok” for me. I followed your instructions and measurements to a T even using the same brand of fish sauce but mine came out quite salty. The saltiness overshadowed the brown sugar and other flavors, so for me I think I am going to cut the fish sauce by one tablespoon and add an additional teaspoon of sugar. That said, you have fantastic recipes and a great site but for me this one was a bit too savory. Best wishes, Joanne

    • Hi Joanne, Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry you found the dish to be too salty. That’s the first I’ve heard that about this particular dish so I’m scratching my head a bit. Do you remember what type/brand of shrimp you used? I did a little research and found this article on why some shrimp are saltier than others, and was actually really surprised at the range of sodium levels for different types of shrimp (97mg for fresh Gulf shrimp to 730mg for easy peel farm raised shrimp).

      http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/nutrition-101/salt-in-foods/salt-supermarket

      • Hi Jenn,
        Thanks for responding! I used the Kirkland Signature Raw Tail-On shrimp from Costco, which has 280 mg of sodium per 4 oz. Perhaps that contributed? I haven’t noticed any saltiness before. Food for thought…

        • Hi Joanne, That brand has a bit more sodium than the one I use but I don’t think enough to make a big difference. Oh well! If you try it again, you can always cut back on the fish sauce or add more sugar to balance it out, as you mentioned above. Thank you for the feedback.

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

  • 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!

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

  • 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!

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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)

  • I will definitely be trying this in my near future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

    • 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!

      • Would it be just as delicious substituting veggies (perhaps broccoli) for the shrimp, making this vegetarian-friendly?

        • Yes, I think you could get away with using broccoli here, but if you’re looking for a proven vegetarian dish with an Asian flair, you could try these green beans.

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

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

  • This dish is awesome. YUM!

  • This looks so amazing! LOVE your new site…

  • 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!

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