Vietnamese Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water

One of the first recipes we made from Uyen Luu’s cookery book, My Vietnamese Kitchen was her delicious Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water (cá mòi kho), which we made while visiting friends for a weekend of cooking and eating.

As we couldn’t get sardines that day, we switched to mackerel as a similarly oily fish; we also doubled the recipe (which is provided with its original quantities, below). It was beautifully simple, worked perfectly and we all really loved it! I’m already planning on making this one again and again.

Caramelised Mackerel in Coconut Water

Read my full review of Uyen Luu’s My Vietnamese Kitchen.

Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water (cá mòi kho)

Servings 2 people


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ red onion , finely chopped
  • 350 grams whole sardines , scaled and gutted
  • 150 ml coconut water (or use fresh water plus a teaspoon of sugar)
  • 1 Bird's Eye chilli
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 1 tsp coconut caramel (see note)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • cooked rice , to serve


Note: As we didn’t have any coconut caramel, we followed Uyen’s tip to melt and caramelise some brown sugar instead. Make sure you let the sugar get reasonably dark so it can add colour, sweetness and bitterness to the dish.


  • Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan over medium heat and fry the onion until browned.
  • Add the sardines to the pan and fry for about 2 minutes per side.
  • Add the coconut water, chilli, pepper, coconut caramel, sugar, fish sauce and a little more vegetable oil. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Serve with cooked rice, or a palate-cleansing soup and fried greens.

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Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of My Vietnamese Kitchen by publisher Ryland Peters. 

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