Big thanks to Alice for inspiring me to finally try my hand at caramel chicken in claypot. Even though I'm of Viet descent, I never grew up w/ this dish and have eaten it maybe only once before in a restaurant. Given that, I didn't have many preconceived notions and was open to experimentation.
I used Alice's well-written recipe (see link) as a jumping off point. There's a link to the caramel recipe in the thread. Overall, the dish smelled incredible while cooking...a melange of earthy and pungent from the fish sauce and aromatics. I only marinated the meat for about 30 min. before cooking and yet the flavors had deeply penetrated from the hour long braise. Photo below. Served w/ jasmine rice and a comfort food from childhood...sauteed sliced cabbage (I used my fave lately, savoy) w/ fish sauce and one beaten egg. The only thing missing was a pot of "canh" or soup made w/ a few pork spare ribs, cauliflower, and carrots to cleanse the palate at the end and wash down the last bits of rice.
My changes from the recipe: I halved the recipe and used 4 legs and thighs that I cut into two for a total of 8 pieces. Removed skin as Alice did. I also added dried lemongrass since I just got some from Penzeys and have been desperately wanting to use it. I amped up the flavors a bit by adding a little more fish sauce and caramel. Used onion instead of shallots. Also added zest of one lime as opposed to orange zest. Oh, also topped it off w/ a little shao xing since I wanted more liquid but didn't want to add water.
It was perfectly done at the hour mark (my pieces were unusually small today). Still intact but fork tender. Consistency of sauce was good, so I just skimmed off some fat and served as is. The only glitch was the making of the caramel at the beginning. I burnt the first batch since the sugar alone darkens very quickly...it seemed to go from a dark amber to black in a matter of seconds even though heat was on low. The acrid smell made me sad, but I started over and took it off heat a little earlier and had the water ready to add.
Husband devoured this meal w/ gusto. He said that my version reminded him of the 3-cup chicken he cooked during grad school days (which I never got to taste!). It's essentially a cup of soy sauce, cup oil, and cup rice wine w/ some basic Asian seasonings. Mine was healthier since I only used a tsp. of oil, but bone in dark meat made it very flavorful and rich.
Last note: I loved this little Japanese claypot! It's completely glazed except for the bottom. It retained heat wonderfully and cooked very evenly. Doesn't seem as fragile and apt to crack as the sandpot I once had. No pre-soaking either! So for those wanting to venture into claypot cooking, consider the nifty Japanese versions!