One of the most interesting things I learned writing How to Eat Weekends was about the Vietnamese tradition of cooking with caramel sauce. It's an unusual and delicious technique, considered by many to be a cornerstone of the cuisine.
We reprinted a recipe for Carmelized Catfish Sandi Pot -- a Vietnamese casserole, if you will. It was written by Vietnamese scholar Andrea Nguyen, and it is the only recipe in the entire book that comes from someone else. We demanded that it be printed exactly as she published it in her book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors, (Ten Speed Press, 2006), because it's so beautifully written and teaches an essential technique.
In her recipe, catfish steaks bubble away for an hour in a caramel sauce, which is laced with black pepper, fish sauce, scallions, pork fatback and garlic. The results are unbelievable. The fish becomes beautifully dense, yet it's tender and cloaked in a mahogany sauce. It's an entirely new way to look at the ubiquitous and inexpensive catfish.
The lesson in caramel-making alone is well worth the read. Once that caramel is made, you can store it indefinitely in your refrigerator and reuse at will.
I've had great success in a shrimp stir fry studded with black pepper, drizzled over a slices of tart apples (essentially caramel apples) and combined with a BBQ sauce for spareribs. Being the late-afternoon sugar freak that I am, I spoon it into my four o'clock coffee. Delicious.