Vietnamese Spicy Fish Sauce

Nuoc Cham

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Yield:

    ¾ cup

Appears in

Sauces

By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

This basic sauce has the same essential flavors that are included in most Southeast Asian dipping sauces. Americans who are unfamiliar with Vietnamese food may prefer a sauce with less fish sauce, or a sauce made with Thai fish sauce, which is milder. In fact this sauce is very similar to one of the most popular Thai dipping sauces, nam prik. In Vietnam, nuoc cham might be served with a bowl of rice to constitute a simple meal, but it is also an almost universal sauce for salads—it’s perfect with cucumbers—and grilled and fried seafood or meats. It will keep for up to 2 weeks, well covered, in the refrigerator.

Ingredients

garlic cloves, crushed to a paste 2 2
fresh red or green thai chiles, finely chopped or serrano chiles, finely chopped 4 or 2 4 or 2
sugar 3 tbsp 45 ml
lime juice 6 tbsp 90 ml
vietnamese or thai fish sauce ¼ cup 60 ml

Method

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Variations

The amounts of each of the ingredients can be increased or decreased to produce spicier, hotter, more sour, or sweeter versions. The lime juice can be replaced with vinegar (distilled white vinegar is typically used, but white wine vinegar or cider vinegar will give the sauce more finesse), or with tamarind extract (see Note). Water can also be added to the sauce for a lighter version, and chopped cilantro will give the sauce a refreshing bite. A finely chopped 1-inch (2.5 cm) slice of peeled fresh ginger can be stirred into the sauce to make the classic Vietnamese nuoc mam gung—a sauce sometimes served with plain rice and also with seafood.