Black Pepper Fish Sauce Caramel

published Jan 28, 2022

This sauce, which is directly inspired by Vietnamese Nước Màu, tastes great with vegetables, noodles, fish, and more.

Makes1 scant cup

Prep5 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
closeup shot of a spoon of Fish Sauce Caramel
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

One of my favorite dishes of all time is Cá Kho Tộ, or braised and caramelized fish in claypot. A sweet and savory Vietnamese sauce called Nước Màu, or caramel, cooks with the fish, transforming it into a tender, decadent meal. In recent years, I’ve started to see this same sauce be used Stateside, often as an accompaniment to fried Brussels sprouts at upscale bars and restaurants.

The recipe I’m sharing here was directly inspired by Nước Màu. True Nước Màu is made with just sugar and water, while this version, although not traditional, includes fish sauce and aromatics. I chose aromatics that remain true to the region — including shallots and garlic — to liven up and enhance the flavor profile of the sauce. It comes together in less than 30 minutes, and is a great ingredient to have stored in the fridge when you’re looking to amp up the flavors of your weeknight dishes. If you don’t feel like making it, you can also purchase a store-bought version.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

My Favorite Ways to Enjoy Fish Sauce Caramel

I particularly love this sauce with Brussels sprouts, but it would be delicious with any vegetable dish, from green beans to eggplant. You can add some into a stir-fry or noodle dish, or try it on braised chicken or sticky chicken wings. I personally love to mimic Cá Kho Tộ by baking this sauce with salmon in a Dutch oven. The caramel sauce thickens, and the flavors get a little more intense while it cooks. In fact, I think this sauce would pair nicely with most types of fish.

Black Pepper Fish Sauce Caramel Recipe

This sauce, which is directly inspired by Vietnamese Nước Màu, tastes great with vegetables, noodles, fish, and more.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes1 scant cup

Nutritional Info


  • 1/2

    small shallot

  • 3 cloves


  • 1 tablespoon

    vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup

    fish sauce, such as Squid brand

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    cup water

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes


  1. Very finely chop 1/2 small shallot (about 1/4 cup) and 3 garlic cloves (about 1 tablespoon).

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until tender and translucent, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup fish sauce, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until reduced by one quarter (to about 1 scant cup) and thickened slightly, 18 to 19 minutes.

  3. Serve with vegetables like Brussels sprouts or winter squash. Roast it with your favorite fish. Try it with your favorite seafood, or pork. Drizzle some into a stir-fry.

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