Fish Sauce Caramel Brussels Sprouts

published Oct 19, 2023
Fish Sauce Caramel Brussels Sprouts Recipe

Upgrade sauteed Brussels sprouts with salty-sweet fish sauce caramel for the perfect side dish.


Prep5 minutes

Cook22 minutes

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Overhead view of cooked brussels sprouts on a charcoal plate, topped with sesame seeds, and a spoon resting on the plate.
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

When I was in college, on very special occasions, we would go to a restaurant that served fried Brussels sprouts with the most incredible sauce I’d ever tasted. It was sweet, salty, and it had the most intense umami flavor. If I could’ve, I would have eaten there once a week. That was my first encounter with fish sauce caramel and I’ve yet to find a more perfect topping for Brussels sprouts.

Vietnamese caramel, Nước Màu, is paired with fish sauce to flavor many traditional Vietnamese dishes such as bò kho (braised beef stew) and thit kho tau (caramelized pork belly and eggs). However, in recent years, chefs have used the combination as a topping for vegetables, as a sauce for chicken wings, and even as a topping for ice cream.

While I still love the caramel with fried brussels sprouts, I love how much faster and easier it is to simply sear halved sprouts in a pan until charred and crispy on one side and crisp-tender on the other. The most important part — that perfect sauce — stays the same.

Ingredients in Fish Sauce Caramel Brussels Sprouts

  • Brussels sprouts. The nooks and crannies are perfect for collecting sauce.
  • Light brown sugar. A little molasses flavor rounds out the caramel sauce.
  • Fish sauce. A little goes a long way to add salty umami flavor.
  • Shallot. This aromatic boosts the flavor.
  • Sesame seeds. Add a little crunch at the end with pre-toasted seeds.

If You’re Making Fish Sauce Caramel, a Few Tips

  • Use Vietnamese fish sauce. Although both Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce are delicious, Thai fish sauce is a bit stronger and saltier, which may overpower the caramel. Use a Vietnamese variety such as Red Boat or Three Crabs.
  • Cook the Brussels sprouts on one side. Once you get a nice char on the cut side of the sprouts, there is no need to flip and keep cooking. The residual heat and caramel will soften them until they are perfectly crisp-tender.
  • Add some protein. For a more complete meal, add a quick-cooking protein like shrimp and serve over steamed rice.

Fish Sauce Caramel Brussels Sprouts Recipe

Upgrade sauteed Brussels sprouts with salty-sweet fish sauce caramel for the perfect side dish.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 22 minutes

Serves 2-4

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    small shallot

  • 1 pound

    medium Brussels sprouts

  • 2 tablespoons

    canola oil, divided

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup


  • 1 tablespoon

    fish sauce

  • 2 teaspoons

    toasted white sesame seeds


  1. Finely chop 1 small shallot (2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup). Trim and halve 1 pound Brussels sprouts, saving any leaves that fall off (about 4 cups).

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil over medium heat in a 10-inch skillet until shimmering. Add half of the Brussels sprouts and leaves and toss to coat in the oil. Arrange the Brussels sprouts in a single layer cut-side down. Cook undisturbed until the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender and the bottoms are deeply browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil and Brussels sprouts. Transfer to the same plate.

  3. Add the shallots, 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1 tablespoon fish sauce to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the Brussels to the pan and toss to coat.

  4. Remove the pan from the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes since the caramel is very hot before serving. Garnish with 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.