In a medium saucepan, cook sugar on medium-low for 6 to 8 minutes until melted. Add the fish sauce and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved and the liquid is no longer cloudy.
Or you can combine the sugar pieces and the fish sauce in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until all the sugar has dissolved. Either way you make the caramel sauce, the longer you cook the sauce, the thicker and more concentrated the flavor will be.
Strain the sauce and pour into a mason jar. Let it come to room temperature before covering and storing in the fridge.
Add the sugar and salt to the vinegar in a large bowl and stir until fully dissolved.
Toss in the carrots, cucumbers, onions, and any other vegetable you’d like to have. Consider radish, beets, zucchini, peppers, chilies etc. You don’t have to just do carrots and cucumber. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. You can also leave them overnight in the fridge.
In a glass or stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and hot sauce until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until just combined. Gently fold in the egg whites. Don’t worry if the batter is lumpy, that’s a good thing.
Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while you let your waffle iron preheats.
How much batter you use will depend on the size of your waffle maker. I have an American-style waffle maker that makes four squares at a time. I drop a 1/4 cup batter into the center of each square. Close the lid and remove the waffles when the timer goes off or the waffle appears golden brown across the top and steam stops streaming out from the sides of the waffle maker. Serve immediately.
To freeze the waffles, first, let them cool completely. Once cool, wrap each individual waffle in plastic wrap. Then either wrap two in foil or place them in freezer ziplock bags.
Take a waffle out of the freezer when you want one and reheat it in the waffle iron for 3 to 5 minutes or until it's crispy again and warmed through.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the chicken strips into 1-inch thin pieces.
Mix the flour, cornstarch, hot pepper flakes, turmeric, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a shallow bowl.
Mix the buttermilk, egg, Sriracha, and a dash of salt in another shallow bowl.
Pour the Panko crumbs into a shallow bowl. Start with 1 cup and then add more when that gets low or soggy.
Dredge the chicken strips in the flour mixture, then the buttermilk mixture, and then the Panko. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until crispy on the outside and lightly browned.
If you just made the caramel sauce and it's still warm, skip this step. If you've stored it in the fridge, it will be really thick and hard to spread. While the chicken cooks, heat the caramel sauce in a small saucepan over low heat. This will make it a little easier to spread on the chicken.
Brush or drizzle the chicken strips with the caramel sauce. And serve immediately.
Take fresh waffles or freshly reheated waffles and drizzle a little caramel sauce on top. Add a chicken tender and top with the pickled veggies. Serve with a drizzle of more Vietnamese Caramel Sauce or a little Sriracha sauce if desired.
*Look for fish sauces that don't add any sugar, caramel coloring, or other unnecessary ingredients. My favorite brand is Red Boat (affiliate link), it only has anchovies and sea salt.
I know this looks intimidating, but you can do most of the parts on separate days.
Both the Vietnamese caramel sauce and waffles can be made weeks in advance. I store my caramel sauce in the fridge for a long time because the ingredients last as long as they are refrigerated. Freeze the waffles and reheat them in 5 minutes.
The pickled veggies can be made the night before.
The chicken tenders need to be made the day of and the fresher they are, the better. They taste fine as leftovers but the crispiness disappears and can't be brought back by reheating the tenders in the oven or over a hot skillet.