Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Caramelized Catfish in Clay Pot)

By Alex Au Yeung

4.7/5 - (8 votes)

Indulge in the exquisite flavors of Ca Kho To, a beloved Vietnamese dish that tantalizes the taste buds with its rich and caramelized allure. As the fish slices simmer in a luscious caramel sauce, their tender flesh absorbs the intricate depths of the marinade, resulting in a dish that melts in your mouth. Whether it’s the succulent catfish, salmon, or other meaty fish, each bite of Ca Kho To offers a delightful journey through the authentic flavors of Vietnamese cuisine.

What is ca kho to?

Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Caramelized Catfish in Clay Pot)

Ca kho to is a traditional Vietnamese dish that consists of braised fish in a caramelized sauce. “Ca” means fish, “kho” means to braise or simmer, and “to” refers to the large clay pot traditionally used to cook the dish.

Other Kho dishes you may already know like Vietnamese Caramelized Pork (Thit Kho), Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp (Tom Rim), Vietnamese Ginger Chicken (Ga Kho Gung),…

To prepare ca kho to, typically a firm white fish such as catfish or mackerel is used. The fish is first marinated in a mixture of fish sauce, garlic, shallots, sugar, and black pepper. Then it is seared briefly to give it a crispy exterior before being simmered in a rich caramel sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, and water. The sauce caramelizes as it cooks, creating a savory and slightly sweet flavor.

Additional ingredients such as ginger, chilies, and green onions may be added for extra flavor. The dish is usually served with steamed rice and garnished with fresh herbs like cilantro or Vietnamese coriander.

Ca kho to is a popular dish in Vietnamese cuisine and is known for its rich, deep flavors. It showcases the balance of sweet, savory, and umami tastes that are characteristic of many Vietnamese dishes.

Why this recipe works?

The process of caramelizing the sugar in the sauce creates a rich, savory, and slightly sweet flavor profile. The sauce coats the fish slices, infusing them with its delicious taste.

The fish is gently simmered in the sauce, allowing it to absorb the flavors and become tender. The slow cooking process ensures that the fish remains moist and flavorful.

Fish sauce is a key ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine, known for its umami-rich flavor. It adds depth and complexity to the dish, enhancing the overall taste of Ca Kho To.

Ca Kho To Recipe

Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Caramelized Catfish in Clay Pot)

Ca kho to is a popular dish in Vietnamese cuisine and is known for its rich, deep flavors. It showcases the balance of sweet, savory, and umami tastes that are characteristic of many Vietnamese dishes.

  • Claypot
  • 4 slices Catfish (about 6 ounces (170g) each)
  • 3 tablespoons Fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Water
  • 4 cloves Garlic ((Minced))
  • 1 Shallot ((Finely chopped))
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground black pepper
  • Sliced ginger, sliced chili, and chopped green onions for garnish (Optional)
  1. In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, sugar, water, minced garlic, chopped shallot, and black pepper. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Place the catfish slices in a shallow dish and pour the Ca Kho To seasoning mixture over them. Make sure the slices are evenly coated. Allow them to marinate for about 15-20 minutes.

    Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Caramelized Catfish in Clay Pot)
  3. Heat the claypot or a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Place the marinated catfish slices along with the marinade into the pot.

  4. Cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer over low heat for about 30-40 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

  5. If desired, garnish with sliced ginger, sliced chili, and chopped green onions.

  6. Serve the Ca Kho To hot with steamed rice, canh chua and fresh herbs on the side.

  • Use coconut water: Instead of regular water, use coconut water in the braising liquid. Coconut water adds a subtle sweetness to the dish and infuses it with a tropical flavor.
  • Adjust the heat while cooking the sugar: When caramelizing the sugar in the sauce, be careful not to let it burn. Keep a close eye on the sauce and adjust the heat to low if it starts darkening too quickly.
  • Flip the catfish with a spatula: During the braising process, the catfish slices will become very tender. To prevent them from breaking apart, use a spatula instead of tongs or a fork to flip the fish gently.
  • Let it simmer slowly: Allow the dish to simmer over low heat for the recommended time to ensure the flavors meld together and the fish becomes tender. Avoid rushing the cooking process by keeping the heat low and steady.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning: Before serving, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning according to your preference. You can add more fish sauce for saltiness, sugar for sweetness, or black pepper for spiciness.

Main Course
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Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Caramelized Catfish in Clay Pot)

Nutrition facts

Serving Size1serving
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value *
Total Fat12g
Saturated Fat3g
Trans Fat
Total Carbohydrate20g
Dietary Fiber1g


What type of fish should I use?

For Ca Kho To, you can use fish with few bones and meaty flesh such as salmon, barramundi, basa, cod, or sea bass. Fish with a generous amount of fat is also delicious as it melts in your mouth after braising.

What type of fish sauce brand should I use?

Red Boat is a premium fish sauce brand known for its quality and traditional production methods. It is made from black anchovies and has a rich and flavorful profile.

Three Crabs is another popular brand that is widely used in Vietnamese cuisine. It offers a balance of saltiness and umami flavors and is made from anchovies.

Squid Brand Fish Sauce is a well-known brand originating from Thailand. It has a strong, savory flavor and is made from anchovies. It is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine, including Vietnamese dishes like Ca Kho To.

Son Fish Sauce is a Vietnamese brand that offers a range of fish sauces suitable for various recipes, including Ca Kho To. It is known for its authentic taste and quality. Son Fish Sauce provides a balanced flavor profile and enhances the overall taste of the dish.

What can I use if I don’t have a claypot?

Large saucepan with a flat bottom: A large saucepan with a flat bottom can work well for braising the fish. Choose a saucepan that is deep enough to hold the fish and sauce comfortably.

Skillet: A skillet with a lid can be used as an alternative to a claypot. Use it on the stovetop and adjust the cooking time as needed.

Pot with a lid: A heavy-bottomed pot with a lid can also be used for Ca Kho To. Ensure the pot is large enough to accommodate the fish slices and has a tight-fitting lid to retain moisture during cooking.

Should fish bones be filtered before cooking?

The bones of the fish can contribute to the flavor and richness of the dish during the braising process. They also help to hold the fish slices together and prevent them from falling apart.


Ca Kho To is not merely a dish; it is a culinary masterpiece that embodies the heart and soul of Vietnamese cuisine. With its robust flavors, tender fish, and tantalizing caramel sauce, Ca Kho To has the power to transport you to the bustling streets of Vietnam, where the aroma of home-cooked meals fills the air.