The grandmother who shared this recipe, Huong Thu Nguyen, states, “It takes awhile to make good caramel sauce without burning it.” I didn’t burn mine, but it didn’t quite caramelize as much as in the picture the way it was supposed to. I’m sure I will get it after another try or two. Regardless, we ate this faster than is usually polite because it was very good. This is definitely a dish worth perfecting.
Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies from The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook
In a medium bowl, season the chicken with the salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add half of the lemongrass, toss, and set aside.
In a large skillet (if possible, use a pan with a light interior such as a stainless steel so you can monitor changes in color), heat the oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the sugar and cook and stir continuously. After 1 to 2 minutes, the sugar will start to clump together then melt into a syrup. Cook and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the clear syrup thickens into a gooey caramel-brown liquid suspended in oil. You will also smell a pleasant burnt sugar aroma. Watch the caramel closely during this process as it can burn very quickly. If the caramel starts to turn black and smell acrid, pull the skillet off the stove for a few seconds before continuing.
Stir in the remaining lemongrass, the onion, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic and cook and stir until the ingredients turn golden brown and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken in the caramel sauce, for about 1 1/2 minutes. If there isn’t enough sauce to evenly coat the chicken, carefully add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the mixture starts to sputter and seize, pull the skillet off the stove until it ceases. Throw in the chilies and cook and stir until the chicken is no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the fish sauce and the remaining garlic. Stir with a couple more flourishes to mix well. When the chicken is just cooked through (cut a piece to check), taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Remove from heat and transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and garnish with cilantro leaves and green onions.