F&W Top 40: Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

Food & Wine Magazine is celebrating it's 40 year anniversary by publishing 40 of their favorite recipes from the past 40 years. I will be trying many of these out and re-posting them for Y'all to enjoy.

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The first recipe in this series is Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken. We are big fans of rice bowls here at the Common Housefly Test Kitchen. They are simple to construct, infinitely varied and make great weeknight meals. This recipe fits that description perfectly.

When I first took a look at the ingredients and the preparation I thought there was no way this would be a memorable dish. It seemed too simple. It had an ingredient list that we mostly have on hand and only takes a few minutes of prep and cook time.

Boy was I wrong. This dish was awesome. It was sweet & savory, and had a depth of flavor that was very satisfying. I found myself thinking that I would pay for this at a restaurant and be perfectly satisfied with my order.

The recipe is by Charles Phan and is from 1998. After the recipe I will post a few notes from my trial run.

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken


  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

  • About 1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

  • 2 fresh Thai chiles, halved, or dried red chiles

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced

  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 4 cilantro sprigs

How To Make It:

Step 1    

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper and chiles.

Step 2    

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve.


Because fish sauces vary in their saltiness, Phan advises adding the fish sauce to taste.

Serve With

Steamed jasmine rice.


1. The recipe calls for adding the fish sauce mixture and the chicken at the same time and cooking it for 10 minutes. I think the fish sauce is supposed to cook down and thicken up, but it takes longer than 10 minutes to get the right consistency which resulted in overcooked chicken. I would cook down the sauce first, for about 5 minutes then add the chicken which should give you properly cooked chicken and a sauce with the correct consistency.

2. This dish could be made vegetarian by using Tofu instead of the chicken and I think it would be tremendous.

3. Vegans could try this substitute for the Fish Sauce.

recipesMichael Liss