Ga Kho- Vietnamese Caramelized Spicy Chicken

Judge me if you’d like, but I sure miss being able to eat American Chinese food.  Not the fancy stuff or dim sum… I’m talking about Panda Express-style orange or General Tso’s chicken.  And while I’m in disclosure mode, I may as well admit that I wouldn’t mind a goldfinger or crab rangoon either.

Sure, this caramelized spicy chicken isn’t Chinese food.  But the good news?  It’s even better (and naturally gluten-free!).  Chunks of boneless, skinless chicken are simmered in a sweet and spicy fish sauce-based broth until the liquid has reduced into a sticky, super flavorful sauce that coats every tender bite.  It’s traditional to make this dish in a clay pot, but I found a basic skillet worked just fine.

I’m thinking this is a dish that could appeal to the whole family- just adjust the Thai chiles according to heat tolerance and preference.  I’m the kind of girl who gravitates to menu items marked with the little chile/heat symbol, so I used 3 sliced Thai chiles AND a couple whole chiles as well.  But that’s probably excessive and not necessarily traditional, so feel free to adapt it to make it work for you.


Ga Kho- Vietnamese Caramelized Spicy Chicken

Yield: 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes


* 1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken (thighs preferred, but breast also works)
* 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
* 4 cloves garlic, minced
* 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, grated (peeled, frozen ginger is easy to grate)
* 2-3 small shallots, minced (I used shallots about the size of ping pong ball)
* 1-3 Thai chiles (depending on your heat tolerance/preference), sliced
* 3 Tablespoons fish sauce
* 2 Tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
* 1 Tablespoon sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* 1/4 cup water
* 6-8 green onions, sliced on the diagonal into approx 2-inch lengths


Cut the chicken into large chunks and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the pieces of chicken are no longer pink. Push the chicken to the perimeter of the saucepan and add the garlic, ginger, shallots and Thai chiles. Cook for several minutes, until softened.

Combine the fish sauce, both sugars and black pepper in a small bowl and stir to mix.

Toss the chicken and garlic mixture and then pour in the fish sauce mixture and stir to coat. Bring to a boil for a minute or two and then add the water. Adjust heat to a low simmer and then let the chicken cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and the chicken is cooked through. Add the green onions.

Remove from heat and serve with rice.

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14 Responses to “Ga Kho- Vietnamese Caramelized Spicy Chicken”

  1. #
    bevvbevv — July 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    This looks truly delectable! On my meal plan for next available spot!


  2. #
    Anonymous — July 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    This does look delicious- However am a little nervous about using the fish sauce since I don't like “fishy” tasting foods. What do you think? Just omit it?


    • CATE — July 7th, 2012 @ 3:16 am

      Nooooo! :). I think you should definitely keep it in. The fish sauce adds a wonderful salty sweetness with just a little bit of umami funk. You probably would have no idea that there was fish sauce if you just tasted the final product. It definitely shouldn't taste fishy at all.


  3. #
    Jennifer — July 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I am allergic to all fish can I sub anything for the fish sauce? Otherwise sounds really good.


    • CATE — July 10th, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

      I've actually seen vegetarian versions at Asian grocery stores so you might want to check if you have one nearby. Otherwise I'm sure there are some homemade vegan and/or vegetarian recipes out there…. it's definitely worth Googling :)


    • Hilary D — September 25th, 2012 @ 12:34 am

      In some Thai recipes I've seen, they recommend using light soy sauce (not the low sodium stuff…light soy sauce from a Chinese market, Pearl River Bridge seems to be a popular brand)as a substitute for fish sauce. I've substituted light soy sauce for fish sauce in many recipes with success :-)

      Also, note that I've only seen light soy sauce in Chinese groceries…it doesn't seem to be something that they sell at some other Asian stores, i.e. Korean or Vietnamese markets, at least the ones around me.


  4. #
    Lauren Galerio — July 11, 2012 at 12:31 am

    I made this tonight and it was quite delicious although a bit too salty. I dont know if its just the brand of fish sauce I used because I did not add any salt. I will do this again but modify the amount of fish sauce :)


    • CATE — July 11th, 2012 @ 4:25 am

      So glad you liked it! Hopefully reducing the fish sauce by a bit will do the trick to get it to your desired level of saltiness :)


  5. #
    Meson Decay — July 14, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Just finished cooking and eating this tonight for dinner – it was absolutely delicious! I had to swap out the shallots for mild Korean onions, and change the Thai chilies for spicy Korean ones, but everything else was the same. Spicy, sweet, salty – it was fantastic! Thanks very much for sharing this – I'll be making this back home in Australia in a few weeks when I am home for vacation. :)


    • CATE — July 14th, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

      Awesome! So glad you liked it :)


  6. #
    Kristen — October 20, 2012 at 3:26 am

    I made this last night using already cooked rotisserie Chicken that I bought from the store. I added in some cabbage but other than that followed the recipe exactly. The flavors were absolutely delicious. I served with these thai style brussel sprouts on the side which complemented the chicken nicely.

    Tonight I’m going to try your recipe for rice vermicelli noodles! So glad i stumbled upon your blog!


  7. #
    Cate — October 20, 2012 at 7:47 am

    So glad you liked it Kristen! Thanks for coming back and taking the time to comment as well :)


  8. #
    Tim in TN — July 19, 2013 at 1:50 am

    I doubled the recipe and had my doubts (don’t double this unless you use 2 saute pans). For the longest time, it was watery and the chicken seemed to be holding on to its pale white color. Then as the juices and water evaporated and caramelization began the kitchen filled with a beautiful smell and the chicken developed a rich, sticky glaze. My doubts were extinguished when I sampled my first bite. Y.U.M. My family raved. My kids’ friends (who live on frozen pizza and takeout) looked skeptically at their plates but soon devoured their meal.

    Thank you. Big hit. Bold flavor. Sure winner.

    I served this with watermelon and Asian-Style Stir Fried Beans though i broiled them instead.


    • Cate — July 24th, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

      Yay! So glad you liked it Tim. This is one of my very favorite dishes. I made it for my whole family and, although my mom wasn’t crazy about the smell of the fish sauce, everybody loved it too. I’ll definitely have to try those beans- they sound like a hit.


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