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Caramel-Cooked Cod

Caramel-Cooked Cod 4.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Book Report Oct 8, 2014

This Vietnamese-inspired recipe requires you to prep the ingredients while the sugar is caramelizing, with minimal attention. If the sugar doesn't melt, try reducing the heat and stirring continuously until it liquefies and darkens slightly. Then return to the remaining prep.

Do not be shy when adding black pepper to the caramel sauce. The seasoning should be pronounced, not a background note.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4 servings

  • 1 cup sugar
  • Water
  • 3 or 4 shallots
  • 3 limes, or more as needed
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce, or more as needed
  • 2 bunches scallions
  • One 1 1/2-pound piece cod fillet (may substitute other thick, white-fleshed fish fillet)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Leaves and tender stems from 1 bunch cilantro
  • Unseasoned rice vinegar, for serving (optional)


To make the caramel sauce, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved completely (see headnote).

Meanwhile, thinly slice the shallots. Cut each lime in half. Combine the fish sauce with 1/2 cup of water in a liquid measuring cup.

Check the caramel sauce; it should have darkened slightly after cooking for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully add the fish sauce-water mixture to the pan; it may steam up.

Return the skillet to the heat and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, until well incorporated.

Stir in the shallots; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until softened.

While the shallots are cooking, position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler. Trim the scallions. Cut the fish into equal-size portions.

Place the scallions on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with the oil and season lightly with the salt and pepper. Broil for 4 or 5 minutes, using long tongs to turn them so they are lightly charred all over.

Squeeze the juice from the limes into the caramel sauce (in the skillet), then add 1 teaspoon of the pepper, or more to taste. Arrange the fillets in the sauce; if the sauce does not reach at least halfway up the thickness of the fish, add water to make that happen. Reduce the heat as needed so the sauce is gently bubbling. Cook, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes or just until the sharp tip of a knife inserted into the center of each fillet meets little resistance.

Chop the cilantro while the fish cooks. Once the fish is done, taste the sauce and add more fish sauce, lime juice and/or pepper as needed. Place a fillet and some charred scallions on each plate; pour some of the caramel sauce over each portion. Garnish with the cilantro. Pass the vinegar at the table, if desired.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from "How to Cook Everything Fast," by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

Tested by Tim Carman.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving: 400

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 5g 8%

Saturated Fat: 1g 5%

Cholesterol: 75mg 25%

Sodium: 2360mg 98%

Total Carbohydrates: 57g 19%

Dietary Fiber: 0g 0%

Sugar: 52g

Protein: 33g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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