The Key to Ga Kho Xa Ot
From research, a true Vietnamese kho is a savory-sweet dish simmered in a caramel-based sauce. Traditionally it is prepared in a clay pot (I didn't). Of course, there are many variations of kho dishes with different types of proteins. This one is chicken quickly braised with lemongrass and chili peppers.
The Ga Kho Xa Ot dish is renowned for its combination of salty and sweet from the fish sauce (or soy sauce if not keen on fish sauce) and caramel sauce. The addition of lemongrass adds a wonderful aroma to the dish, with the spicy chili peppers providing a balance to the sweetness.
The only new issue for me was caramelizing the sauce. I had no difficulty getting the sugar into a deep amber colour, adding a bit of water and then removing from the heat. However, after a few minutes, it had really caramelized to the bottom of the skillet. I solved it by adding a bit more water and putting it back on the heat for a minute when I was ready to use it. I noticed other recipes didn't remove it from the heat and quickly added in other ingredients. Experiment to see what works best.
There are endless serving possibilities of course. My favourite is to serve it over a mix of quinoa and Israeli couscous. Various kinds of rice are always a favourite. Steamed vegetables, ranging from broccolini, carrots to cabbage, have been noted in recipes I checked. Lots of scallions (both the white and green parts) and cilantro would help round it out.
Ga Kho Xa Ot -- Spicy Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken
(Originally Food and Wine, 2007, and Rasa Malaysia, 2012)
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts (preferably skinless, organic), cut into bite-size (1 1/2 inch) pieces
2 T canola oil
1 T curry powder (your choice on strength)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 T plus 1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 T fish sauce (or soy sauce)
3 lemongrass, inner white bulbs only, crushed and minced
3 T water
1 shallot, minced
3 Thai green chlies, sliced
2 scallions, for garnishing, or your preference, white and green parts
Cilantro (optional for garnish)
In a small skillet, mix the remaining 2 T of sugar with 1 T of water and cook over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cook without stirring until a deep amber caramel forms. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 T of water. Transfer to a bowl.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add the canola oil and heat until shimmering. Add the lemongrass, shallot, and chilies and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chicken and caramel and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is slightly thickened. Transfer to a bowl and top with scallions and cilantro if using.