I first made this Vietnamese Clay Pot chicken during my first winter in Beijing in 2008. The temperatures were consistently brutally low (think Northern Vermont in January) and the heating in my rental apartment was way less than adequate. I wanted a hearty meaty dish that would also warm up the apartment while it cooked on the stove.
This Vietnamese Clay Pot Chicken, or Vietnamese Caramelized Chicken, was the perfect thing to make. Despite the name, you don't actually need a traditional clay pot; it cooks very well in a Dutch oven or straight-sided skillet as well. This week I revisited and revised the recipe, making it more streamlined ; hopefully you'll like it even better than before!
Cold weather makes me long for piping hot dishes, like clay pot braises. Last night I decided to make clay pot caramelized chicken, and adapted a Vietnamese-style braise from Chef Charles Phan of San Francisco's The Slanted Door. One of the major changes I made was the amount of fish sauce. The original recipe called for 3 tablespoons, which I would not recommend to anyone hoping to keep a decent-smelling kitchen. (See Vietnamese Caramelized Pork.) I reduced the amount to 1 tablespoon, which is plenty for enhancing the flavors of the dish.
You can also make this dish both mild or spicy. I tossed in seeded Thai chilli, which added a mild tinge; for more spice, just leave the seeds in.
Vietnamese Clay Pot Chicken
- 2 pounds chicken thighs or legs, skin-on
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 bird's eye chilis or other small red peppers, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- Cilantro springs for garnish (optional)
- Blot the chicken with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Combine the soy sauce, water, white vinegar, fish sauce, and lemon juice in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, carefully place the chicken thighs in the wok skin-side down and sear for about 5 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- In a clay pot, Dutch oven, or deep skillet over medium heat, melt the brown sugar while stirring frequently to avoid scorching. When the sugar fully liquifies, immediate pour in the soy sauce mixture. Add the chicken, onions, chilis, garlic, and ginger. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is very tender and the sauce has reduced by at least half.
- Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with cilantro springs, and serve hot with rice on the side.
Adapted from Chef Charles Phan, via Epicurious. Recipe first posted Feb. 13, 2008, revised November 8, 2012.