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Making Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)
Today, I will be showing you guys how my family makes this Vietnamese dipping sauce. If I had to describe our family’s recipe in comparison to others it would be a sweeter sauce with a bit of tang. This is because my parents come from the southern part of Vietnam, where they generally like increase the sugar and lime ratio. Hope you guys find this post interesting and helpful!
Any Brand of Fish Sauce Can Work!
Now I have seen crazy arguments online about which brand is best for cooking, dipping and everything else in between. My stance is that whatever brand you use, you can make it work!
Because lets be honest, people buy different brands of fish sauce for a variety of reasons. Most of the time it is the one that their parents used as they were growing up. Sometimes it’s the taste or the sale price. The one thing I am certain of is that it is definitely not worth arguing over.
In my experience, the more expensive bottles of fish sauce have a deeper and richer flavour with a longer length of taste. For these reasons I like to use them for recipes where the fish sauce is the star ingredient. This is because you will be able to taste the fish sauce in its entirety, getting the most value for your money.
When you start mixing a lot of stuff in, the delicate notes and flavours of the fish sauce become lost. This is why I generally use cheaper fish sauce for cooking.
So can you make a good Vietnamese dipping sauce from cheap fish sauce? YES! My mum used cheap fish all her life and I love her nuoc mam cham.
In my opinion, the secret to making a great tasting sauce comes down to being able to tinker it to your preferences. Because if it tastes good to you, what else matters?
The fish sauces I generally use if you are interested:
Squid ($3 – $5 AUD) – This cheap fish sauce is great for cooking and staying on a budget. My mum uses it for everything and I love MOST of her food!
3 Crabs and Megachef Gold ($6 – $10 AUD) – These mid range fish sauces are fantastic for cooking and dipping. Basically your all purpose fish sauce.
Red Boat ($15 + AUD) – This is easily the most expensive fish sauce I have ever used. The flavour is superior to any other brand when tasted on its own. Great for anything that requires fish sauce but may be a bit too expensive for everyday use.
Adjusting Your Vietnamese Dipping Sauce to Your Taste
I’m giving you my general recipe today, which is sometimes on the money and other times needs to be adjusted. This will always be the case because the strength and taste of each ingredient is always going to be slightly different, for example depending on freshness, ripeness and variety. So, while it’s helpful to have a good basic recipe, the more important thing is to learn how to adjust it to suit your preferences.
If your nuoc mam cham:
Is not salty enough, lacks body or it’s otherwise bland, then add more fish sauce.
Has too much of a strong fish sauce aftertaste, then add more sugar, lime and water to round it out.
Does not have enough tang, then add more lime juice.
Has too much tang then add more sugar.
Needs a little more sourness without using lime or lemon then add a little white vinegar.
Tastes too strong, then add a little water too dilute the flavours.
Tastes pretty close but not quite there, give the sauce time to develop. You will notice that once the garlic has been infused the flavour of your sauce will dramatically improve getting you over the last hurdle.
All these steps should be done in SMALL increments (usually 1/2 tsp) then taste tested straight after. Never do too much at one time.
What to Add to Your Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Here are a few things I add to my sauce to elevate the flavour:
Whole flattened garlic – If you don’t like having raw pieces of garlic in your food then leave it whole. Simply flatten the clove of garlic with a knife and drop it in your sauce.
Finely chopped garlic – This is the most popular way of adding garlic to your sauce. It is also the fastest way for the garlic to infuse with the sauce.
Chopped chillies – For anyone who loves spice, adding chopped birds eye or Thai chillies is a must.
Lime pulp – This will add pops of sourness which will make your sauce much more interesting. To effectively get lime pulp use a juicer like the one below.
Pickled carrots – You will see this done at restaurants to add texture to the sauce and make it look better. I don’t bother because I am lazy.
Using Soft Drink (Soda)
There are people out there who swear by using soft drinks (soda) as a substitute for the water and sugar in their nuoc mam cham. The ones I have seen are:
I’ve tried a few recipes online and have experimented with Sprite, 7Up, and lemonade. None of the recipes I tried turned out well, they all required a lot of tinkering. Coconut soda seemed to be the most popular substitute but I could not for the life of me find it in Canberra.
I’m not sold on soft drink being any better, especially when it’s replacing water and sugar which are usually more readily available. Potentially I’d change my mind if I tried coconut soda but for now I’m happy to stick with the more traditional method.
Give the Sauce Time to Develop
Most of the Vietnamese dipping sauce recipes you see online will tell you to serve it up straight away. Honestly, in my experience, the sauce begins to taste better the day after you make it. Why? Because you give the garlic time to infuse and for the flavours to develop. Of course you can always serve it up just after making it but you will notice the fish sauce will have a slightly sharp taste to it. Give it a day and the other ingredients will slowly round it out leaving you with a beautiful tasting Vietnamese dipping sauce.
What to Serve Nuoc Mam with?
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Scruff and Steph
Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)
Like an heirloom, every Vietnamese household has their own version of dipping fish sauce (or nuoc mam cham). The fish sauce you find at the grocery store is raw, strong in taste and smell. Add sourness, sweetness, spiciness and you get something that can enhance any meal.
When I first got married, I have no clue how to make the perfect blended fish sauce. I always asked my sister in law (Thao) to make me a batch of dipping fish sauce every time we have people over for vermicelli or for spring rolls. And she is well known for making the best dipping sauce in the family. As I followed my sis in law and mother in law around the kitchen, I’ve learned some tips and tricks in making the best fish sauce. I’m sharing my own version of fish sauce. The perfect fish sauce is always a work in progress, so get started now!
Rule of thumb: Use the 1:1:2
My sis in law (Thao) – her rule of thumb is the 1:1:2 ratio, meaning 1 part fish sauce, 1 part sugar or lime juice (more on that later) and 2 part water (more on that later).
Every single time I asked Thao for a recipe for dipping fish sauce, she always matter-of-factly replied, “You don’t have to be exact, but follow the ratio and adjust to your preference.”
We use 1 part of fish sauce, 1 part of white sugar and 2 part of water.
The 2 part water is a combination of water, lime juice, (or vinegar) and coconut water (or coconut soda).
Regular water verses boiling water
While Thao uses regular water or sometimes bottle water for her fish sauce, my mother in law uses hot water. She stated that hot water (or even boiling water) will “cook” the fish sauce and brings out more flavors. Both work well and for my own version I used hot water.
Vinegar verses lime juice
While vinegar has a better fridge life than lime juice, in our household we only use lime juice for a better and fresher flavor.
This sweet, sour, salty fish sauce is perfect for vermicelli, rice dishes, or spring rolls, etc.
Nuoc mam cham plays an essential part in many Vietnamese dishes. I hope you’ll give it a try.
Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce: Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam · I Am A Food Blog
Every household has their own fish sauce recipe and that’s the way it should be – everyone’s nước chấm tastes slightly different. This particular recipe is based off of my mother-in-law’s fish sauce, which is the best in the world, hands down. Of course, way back in the day, when I asked her how to make it, it was the classic, “a little bit of this, a little bit of that” style teaching that everyone in that generation seems to do. But, she took the time to take me through it step-by-step and now I like to think that my nước chấm would be a very strong contender in a fish sauce throw down. But not a literal throw down because damn, you would not be able to get rid of the smell for days.
Anyway, how you do it, according to my mẹ chồng (that’s mom-in-law in Vietnamese!) is this:
Put a clove of garlic in a mortar and pestle. Pound it lightly and then add a chili and mash them together. Add a biggish handful of sugar and pound them together until the sugar turns pink and is super deliciously spicy and garlic-y smelling. Move the chili-garlic-sugar to a bowl and stir in some water then squeeze in half a lime. Pour in fish sauce until the color is a perfect light amber. Taste and adjust and you’re done!
That’s essentially how I make fish sauce now, but I use the help of measurements so I get the same results every time. This recipe below will make a fish sauce that’s sweet and a little spicy with just the right amount of garlic and lime. Feel free to adjust and play around with the ratios though! Mike thinks my fish sauce is slightly on the sweeter side so when he makes it he dials down the sugar a bit and always adds in an extra chili or two. The most important part is crushing the garlic and chili into the sugar with a mortar and pestle so you get a nice fragrant spicy sugar before mixing in the water and lime. Oh, and you always mix in the fish sauce at the end.
PS – In case you’re interested in, even though I refer to mixed fish sauce as nước chấm in this post, Mike’s family calls it nước mắm, which is what it really should be because nước chấm actually means dipping sauces and can include things like peanut sauce and the like. Nước mắm pha is literally mixed fish sauce and the most well known of the nước chấms. (Picture a blazing rainbow star…. The More You Know)
Crush the garlic, chili and sugar together in a mortar and pestle until the garlic and chili are crushed to tiny pieces and the sugar is spicy and fragrant. Alternatively, you can stir minced garlic and sliced chilis into the sugar. Dissolve the sugar, garlic and chili mixture with the water then add the lime juice. Mix well then add the fish sauce. It’s best to let the fish sauce sit in the fridge for a day or so for the flavors to meld before using, but you can definitely use it right away if you need to.
Notes: This sauce is on the sweet side, which is how I like it, but feel free to play around with and adjust the proportions as you see fit. I’d say start with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and go from there.
Also, sometimes we like to use more of a slightly thicker more viscous sauce – to do this, simply reduce down the amount of water you add.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
This Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) is one of my favorite Paleo and Keto salad dressings. From spring roll dipping sauce to noodle dishes. This is the must-have condiment for Vietnamese food lovers!
Use my Keto Nuoc Cham for Vietnamese noodle salad, Vietnamese air fryer chicken wings, and Vietnamese lemongrass chicken!
Nuoc Cham is a sweet, sour, and salty condiment that is served with virtually every Vietnamese dish. I love using it as a dipping sauce for my Paleo spring rolls or drizzle it over Vietnamese lemongrass chicken noodle bowls. Today’s Vietnamese dipping sauce recipe is for keto and paleo users.
Nước Chấm Pronunciation
Nuoc [nook] Cham [chum]
How long does nuoc cham last in the fridge?
If store in a glass and airtight container in the fridge, nuoc cham should last 3-4 weeks. The chili and garlic flavor might become stronger overtime. Use a clean spoon every time to keep the sauce fresh.
Does fish sauce have shellfish?
I only use one brand of fish sauce – Red Boat – and it contains dry anchovies and sea salt. Red Boat fish sauce does not have shellfish and it’s my go-to for Thai and Vietnamese cookings.
How do you make Vietnamese dipping fish sauce?
To make Paleo and Keto Vietnamese Sauce (Nuoc Cham), you’ll need –
Keto honey (product link in profile), honey, or maple syrup
Thai chilis or serrano chili pepper
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce Pairings
More Healthy Easy Paleo Salad Dressings
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) – Paleo Keto
This Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) is one of my favorite Paleo and Keto salad dressings. From spring roll dipping sauce to noodle dishes. This is the must-have condiment for Vietnamese food lovers! Makes about 3/4 cup.
The nutritional label is calculated per tablespoon with Keto honey.
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?
Tag @iheartumami.ny on Instagram and hashtag it #iheartumami
More Awesome Recipes to Try with Keto Nuoc Cham Sauce
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