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Put the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large, heavy-based sauté pan with straight sides and cook over high heat until the sugar starts to melt at the edges and turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium when the sugar starts browning and stir energetically with a wooden spoon. When the caramel is a reddish mahogany brown (another 1 to 2 minutes), take the pan off the heat. Stirring gently, slowly add 1/2 cup water to the pan; be careful, as the caramel may steam or spatter. If the caramel doesn’t dissolve completely, return the pan to medium heat and stir until dissolved. Stir in the fish sauce mixture.
This is a good recipe, and the fish turned out very nicely. However, I had trouble with getting the caramel to come out right. When I added the water, it turned into crystallized lumps. I couldn't get the lovely color and texture in either the recipe photo or the Vietnamese restaurants here in northern Virginia. My family likes hot and spicy food, so the amount of chili pepper was fine for us. It was a notable blast of heat, and cutting back a bit wouldn't hurt. I'll likely make this again, and see if I can get the sauce to turn out better.
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