Sweet and spicy caramel chicken

Vietnamese-inspired dish full of fantastic flavours!

This dish is based on a dish I saw on a cooking show about 5 years ago while languishing in the waiting room of a dental office. The scrap of paper upon which I hastily scribbled the recipe as well as some modification ideas that sprang to mind has been winking at me from my bulletin board for so long that I decided last week it was time to give it a go. I’m glad I did as it is incredibly flavourful and the chicken comes out amazingly tender and juicy thanks to the pre-soak in baking soda and water. Note that you can make the caramel sauce ahead of time then proceed with the recipe later, if you prefer, to speed things up at mealtime. If broccolini is difficult to find, substitute with broccoli or green beans.


  • 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs (approximately 1.5 lb / 680 g)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) baking soda
  • 1/4 cup (48 g) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (30 mL) cold water
  • 3/4 cup (177 mL) hot water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (4 g) grated fresh ginger
  • Few pinches dried chili pepper flakes
  • 1 lb (454 g) broccolini, sliced lengthwise into stalks of even thickness
  • 2 teaspoons (5 g) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon (1.1 g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped (9 g) fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon (8 g) sesame seeds
  • Hot cooked rice, to serve


  • Combine baking soda and 1 1/4 cups (295 mL) cold water in large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Rinse chicken in cold water and drain well. Pat dry with paper towel and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, combine sugar and 3 tablespoons (45 mL) water in a medium-sized saucepan (not a skillet). Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until mixture begins to turn golden, 4 to 6 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, gently swirling saucepan, until sugar turns almost as dark as the color of molasses and registers 390F with an instant-read thermometer (about 5 minutes more). While sauce is cooking, measure 3/4 cup of hot water and place it right beside stove.
  • Note that the caramel sauce may start to smoke a little during the last minute or so of cooking and you’ll need to watch it closely so it doesn’t burn.
  • As soon as 390F is reached, take the pan off the heat right away then slowly pour in the hot water (be careful doing this as the mixture will bubble and emit steam). When the bubbling subsides, return the pan to medium-low heat and stir continuously as the mixture dissolves into a smooth sauce. If making ahead, you can now set the pot aside for the sauce to cool.
  • Transfer caramel sauce to 12-inch (30 cm) skillet with a lid. Stir in fish sauce, grated ginger and chili pepper flakes then add prepared chicken thighs and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and continue to simmer until chicken registers 175F (about 30 minutes), turning chicken over at the 15 minute mark. Transfer chicken to a clean dish; cover to keep warm. Keep sauce in the skillet.
  • Once chicken has cooked, steam or stir fry broccolini until just tender (about 4-5 minutes).
  • While broccolini is cooking, return the skillet to medium heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook until it has reduced by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk cornstarch and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water together in small bowl, then whisk into sauce; simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in pepper.
  • Place two chicken pieces of top of rice on four serving plates and serve broccolini on the side.
  • Drizzle a little sauce over the chicken on each plate then transfer remaining sauce into a jug, to pass at the table.
  • Sprinkle chicken with chopped cilantro and sesame seeds and serve hot.

Serves 4.

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and a dedicated playlist on Rogers TV's YouTube channel.

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