Shrimp in Coconut-Caramel Sauce

This savory-sweet dish is from southern Vietnam, a region where cooks use lots of coconut milk and coconut water. It's delicious and involves a nifty technique: Coconut water is reduced with other ingredients until it caramelizes a bit to create a sauce.
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shrimp in coconut-caramel sauce

Recipe by Andrea Nguyen

Start to Finish: 35 minutes

Servings: 4


  • 1 1/3 cups coconut water

  • 4 1/2 tsp. fish sauce, plus more as needed

  • 4 1/2 tsp. sugar, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 tsp. molasses

  • 2 tbsp. virgin coconut oil

  • 1 large shallot, halved and sliced

  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced

  • 1 1/4 lb. extra-large or jumbo shrimp—peeled and deveined (tails removed), then patted dry

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 scallion, green part only, thinly sliced

  • 3 baby bok choy, quartered

  • Steamed jasmine rice, for serving


1. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut water, 4 1/2 tsp. fish sauce, 4 1/2 tsp. sugar, and the molasses. Season with up to 1 1/2 tsp. sugar or fish sauce or both. 

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium until barely shimmering. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is light brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand until the oil stops sizzling. Stir in the coconut water. 

3. Place the skillet over high heat. Bring the coconut water to a boil and cook, without stirring, until slightly thickened, slightly darker in color, and reduced to between 1/3 and 1/2 cup, 10 to 14 minutes. Add the shrimp. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are opaque in the centers and the sauce is slightly syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes. (If the shrimp cook too fast, remove them from the pan. Let the sauce cook down a little more, then return the shrimp to the pan.) Remove from heat. Season with lots of pepper. Stir in the scallion. Let sit for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate. 

4. Heat the sauce in the pan over high. When it bubbles, add the bok choy and toss until coated. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the bok choy is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes; add a splash of water if the bok choy gets too dry. 

5. Divide the shrimp, bok choy, and rice among plates.

Recipe adapted from Vietnamese Food Any Day, by Andrea Nguyen. © 2019 by Andrea Nguyen. Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press.