Caramel salmon

A glossy, sticky sauce to give everyday salmon a vibrant Vietnamese kick.


Ever since I published my take on Thai-style caramel chicken, I’ve been thinking about how to bring the same effect to seafood. I also wanted it to be much simpler (and, I’ll say it: safer) than that recipe, and all in one pan, in one go if possible.

After many experiments and lots of tuning, I found the solution hinged on starting with quite a lot of liquid and a kind of shallow poaching of the salmon. As the salmon cooks, the liquid reduces itself naturally. By the time the salmon is cooked through, you are just a few moments’ simmering away from the sticky caramel sauce being ready.

The only issue here is managing the heat to cook the salmon without the caramel seizing up, and the answer is, thankfully, very simple. If, at any stage, the caramel seems to be setting too fast for you, just add a tablespoon of water. This will buy you time, and you can do it as often and as many times as you need to.

Caramel salmon


Serves 2.

2 tablespoons brown sugar
80ml (⅓ cup) water
2 salmon fillets
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 long red chilli, finely sliced

Put the brown sugar and water in a frying pan over low heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up to produce a simmer and place the salmon in the pan to start it cooking.

Add the other ingredients – garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, ginger and chilli – regulating the heat to keep a simmer going. Cook the salmon fillets for 4 minutes a side or until cooked through to your liking.

By the time you turn the salmon, the sauce will have reduced but still be quite liquid. As the second side cooks, keep an eye on it: if it is thickening too quickly, add a tablespoon of water. You want it to be sticky enough to coat the salmon but not like toffee.

Transfer the salmon to plates and turn the heat up to quickly reduce the caramel sauce until it starts to become syrupy and sticky. Again, if it becomes too thick too quickly, you can add a little water at any time to thin it back down.

Pour the caramel sauce over the salmon. Garnish with sliced spring onions, some fresh chopped red chilli and coriander leaves, if desired. Serve with rice and a steamed Chinese green like bok choy.