Spicy Caramel Chicken

Last Updated on March 10, 2022

This Vietnamese-inspired dish packs a memorable flavor combination: Sweet and spicy with a touch of umami funk courtesy of the fish sauce lacing it all together.

A perfect option on a weeknight, it comes together quickly and easily in a skillet.

spicy caramel chicken

Spicy Caramel Chicken

4.23 from 27 votes
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Protein: Poultry
Cut: Chicken Thighs
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4


For the marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

For the caramel sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

To assemble:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 jalapeños cut into 1/4-inch rounds


For the marinade

  • Whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes.

For the caramel sauce

  • Whisk together the fish sauce, water, sugar, and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.

To assemble

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the chicken on both sides until browned, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  • Add the remaining olive oil and the garlic to the pan, and sauté until aromatic, less than 1 minute. Add the caramel sauce to the pan and mix it with the garlic. Reduce the heat to medium-low until the sauce is just simmering and add the chicken back into the pan. Keep cooking as the sauce reduces and becomes syrupy, about 4-6 minutes, turning the chicken every minute or so. Once the caramel has thickened and is dark amber, add the jalapeños and cook for 1 minute more, turning the jalapeños over halfway through.
  • Serve immediately with rice.
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Nevin Martell is a D.C.-area based food and travel writer, parenting essayist, recipe developer, and photographer whose work has appeared in The Washington PostNational Geographic, FortuneTravel + Leisure, and many other publications. His eight books include Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America's Favorite Rural Bakery and The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & DrinkIt’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for KidsFind him on Instagram @nevinmartell, on Twitter @nevinmartell, and online at nevinmartell.com.