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I had so much fun writing this story – from trekking all over Vietnam to sampling various types of fish sauces to getting to talk to people I’ve long admired. One of those people is the one and only Andrea Nguyen of the blog Viet World Kitchen, my indispensable resource for all things related to Vietnamese food! Not only did I learn all about fish sauce from some of Andrea’s posts, I also had the great privilege of talking with her about the brands she recommends, which you can find out more about here. Thanks so much, Andrea!
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
1 part fish sauce 1 part lime juice and/or distilled white vinegar 1 part sugar 2 parts water garlic, minced Thai bird chilis, thinly sliced grated carrot for garnish
You can make this the traditional way by pounding garlic, chili, and sugar with a mortar and pestle until the mixture forms a thick paste, then mixing in the liquids. Or you can also use the following method. [Update: I have found that pounding makes such a difference in taste that it is the only way I make nuoc cham now! The method releases all the garlic and chili juices and makes for a sauce tasty enough to drink. Just kidding… kinda. 🙂 The sugar provides some friction, to make pounding easier. ]
Combine fish sauce and lime juice in a bowl. Heat the sugar and some of the water on the stove or in the microwave and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let this cool and combine with the fish sauce, lime, and the rest of the water. Taste and adjust to your liking, adding more sugar for sweetness, lime for sourness, or fish sauce for saltiness. Add minced garlic, slices of Thai bird chilis, and, for garnish, a few shreds of grated carrot.
This tastes best made fresh with lime, garlic, and chili. But the sauce will keep much longer (a month or more in the refrigerator) if you make it with vinegar and leave out the garlic, chili, and carrot until serving. Just freshen with a bit of lime juice when you’re ready to use.
Best Brussel Sprouts With Fish Sauce Sauce Recipe
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Combine the vinaigrette (below), cilantro stems, and mint in a bowl, and set aside.
Peel away any loose or discolored outer leaves, trim the dry end of the stems with a knife, and cut the sprouts in half. Cut any especially large ones in quarters. Do not wash, especially if frying the sprouts. If roasting, and you must, dry very well.
To roast the brussels sprouts (recommended): Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Heat 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pan) in 2 oven-safe wide skillets (12 to 14 inches) over medium heat. When the oil slides easily from side to side of the pan, add the brussels sprouts cut side down. When the cut faces of the sprouts begin to brown, transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about 15 minutes. Alternately, if you don’t have 2 large skillets or are cooking more sprouts for a larger crowd, roast them in the oven: toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil per pound and spread them on a baking sheet, cut sides down. Roast in the oven, checking for browning every 10-15 minutes, tossing them around with a spatula only once they start to brown chúng tôi sprouts are ready when they are tender but not soft, with nice, dark brown color.
To fry the brussels sprouts: Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat until a deep-fry or instant-read thermometer registers 375°F. Line a plate with paper towels. Fry in batches that don’t crowd the pan — be careful, these will pop and spatter. Brussels sprouts will take about 5 minutes: when the outer leaves begin to hint at going black around the edges—i.e., after the sprouts have sizzled, shrunk, popped, and browned but before they burn—remove them to a paper towel–lined plate or tray.
Serve warm or at room temperature. When ready to serve, divide the brussels sprouts among four bowls (or serve it all out of one big bowl), top with the dressing to taste and cilantro leaves, and toss once or twice to coat.
Chili Garlic Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nước Chấm)
Chili garlic fish sauce is a perfect companion dipping sauce for your every day dish from poultry to seafood. With the right balance of saltiness from fish sauce, sourness from lime juice and sweetness from sugar; you’ll get the most flavorful and tangy dipping sauce.
There are a lot of versions of dipping sauce which has fish sauce as a base.
The key to differentiate one to another is the ratio between fish sauce and the rest of the ingredients.
You only need to lower the amount of sugar in one recipe then voila, you’ll have a brand new version of dipping sauce.
The perfect ratio in making this chili garlic fish sauce (Nước chấm)
This recipe is a perfect match for any kind of vinaigrette-based salad, spring rolls, rice rolls (banh cuon) or this sweet chili grilled grilled salmon.
The ratio I’m using for this recipe is (with 33N fish sauce):
1 part fish sauce : 1 part sugar : 2 part water : 0.5 part lime juice
The ratio for 40N fish sauce should be (this ratio is used in this ginger garlic fish sauce recipe)
0.75 part fish sauce (40N) : 1 part sugar : 2 part water : 0.5 part lime juice
Normally, other recipes would call for an adjustable amount of lime juice. But as a person who’s working in a commercial kitchen, consistent is the key here.
If I want to make the perfect dipping sauce I need to have a perfect ratio for every single ingredient.
The type of fish sauce you’re using is matter too. This recipe is call for 33N fish sauce.
You can use any brand but beware of the N-level. N-level is the industry standard use to measure the amount of nitrogen. Technically, the more N-level it has, the more salty it will be as for containing more protein level.
More information about fish sauce level can be found here on Red Boat Fish Sauce website.
Personally, I prefer Red Boat fish sauce. It is known as the best fish sauce out there.
Three crabs brand and squid brand are the other widely used fish sauce brands in the Vietnamese-American community.
The more finely the cloves are crushed (not cut or mince into pieces), the stronger the flavor will be. That said I strongly recommend you using one of the old-fashioned way to crush garlic: using mortar and pestle.
Crushed garlic goes well not only with dipping sauce but also with butter-flavored base sauce.
I bought a granite mortal and pestle ages ago and still using it. I love it so much because:
Granite mortal and pestle are the best when it comes to crushing garlic and other fresh herbs
Granite mortal and pestle won’t absorb flavor and odors. Not to mention it’s easier to clean (Don’t use soap! Just water is enough)
A back-to-basic fish sauce recipe that can be paired with almost every vinaigrette base Asian style salad, and every type of spring roll.
33N (see notes above)
smashed or finely minced (keep the juice)
In a small mixing bowl, mix all ingredients together (except garlic and chili) and whisk until everything is combined.
Add garlic and its juice (if any) and chili afterward.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.
If you’re using 40N fish sauce, reduce 25% the amount of fish sauce. It means only use 2.25 oz of fish sauce instead.
Fish Sauce: Vietnam’S First Love
At every Vietnamese meal, one small bowl takes pride of place. This bowl holds a sauce that ties together everything on the table. Salty, amber brown, and rich in flavour, there’s nothing more Vietnamese than fish sauce, or nước mắm.
A fishy history
Historians and foodies say the first drops of nước mắm go back to the ancient Chăm people, who settled along the shoreline in Central and Southern Vietnam. Some say the Chăm introduced locals to fish sauce, while in other versions of the story Vietnamese were fermenting fish centuries before. Either way, we know that our fishing ancestors needed a way to preserve their bountiful catches. They turned to salt as a way to keep fish from spoiling over long periods of time. The results were so delicious, it’s said the best nước mắm was offered as gifts to kings and queens each year.
Pride of Phú Quốc
These days, most fish sauce from Vietnam comes from the southern island of Phú Quốc, where cá cơm or black anchovies breed in the clear Andaman Sea. Though other seaside provinces bottle fish sauce too, Phú Quốc’s fish sauce is regarded as the best in the country. The process begins on the boat, when fishermen store each catch of black anchovies by layering it with salt. The quality of the salt is important, and top brands invest in excellent salt to flavour their fish.
Back on land, the salted fish is transferred to large wooden barrels to begin an aging process that may last up to 12 months. The type of wood adds to the flavour of the finished product — premium wooden barrels lend deeper umami taste to the sauce. Nước mắm specialists monitor the barrels, taste the sauce, and decide when a batch is ready to be pressed. The most expensive fish sauce is drawn directly from the first press of a single vat, and is unmixed with other batches or diluted with water.
TIP: When in Phú Quốc, request a guided tour of the Red Boat Phu Quoc barrelhouse, to see how world-class nước mắm is made the traditional way.
It would be too simple to say that fish sauce tastes fishy, or even salty. Quality blends have a briny, rounded taste that you can even sample straight from the bottle. Your mind might go to the taste of fresh fish, or to sitting on the beach. Fish sauce sometimes has a touch of sweetness, a mineral flavour, or a note of caramel – all can come naturally in well-aged presses. Good fish sauce smells strong but not stinky, and has high umami. Just a few drops is often enough to season a dish.
Nước mắm in cooking
Travelling through Vietnam, you’ll notice nước mắm is used in countless ways. Foodies in the North like their nước mắm rich and salty, while Southerners, especially those in the Mekong Delta, love adding sugar. In the Centre, Huế locals are known for their impeccable dipping sauces made with fish sauce. Whether drizzled on stir-fried vegetables or used to braise fish and meat, nước mắm elevates everything it touches. Vietnamese are so enamoured of the taste, here you’ll even find fish sauce potato chips and fish sauce ice-cream!
TIP: When in Phu Quoc, sample an upmarket spin on the island’s famous fish sauce from the menu at Sailing Club Phu Quoc. Order the Asian duck salad with five-spice and fish sauce dressing, or the bún thịt nướng, a bowl of fresh greens, grilled pork, and rice noodles doused in a light fish sauce mixed with garlic, sugar and vinegar.
Tips for trying nước mắm
Hot chillies, crushed garlic, pickled papaya — even the tiniest addition to nước mắm can bring about a whole new level of deliciousness. Enjoy experimenting with the varieties that you find. If you’re not sure what goes with what on the table, Vietnamese will be happy to demonstrate. Your crispy nem (fried spring rolls) will get an extra kick from nước mắm diluted with vinegar and water. You can add a teaspoon of nước mắm with chili and garlic to fishy soups, dip steamed vegetables in pure nước mắm to heighten the flavour, or dunk fresh rolls in a blend of nước mắm, sugar, and lime juice. Sharing a bowl of nước mắm with others at the table is how we come together in Vietnam. Perhaps that’s part of why we find nước mắm so delicious.
Must-try dishes around Vietnam
Steamed rice rolls with mushroom fish sauce Bánh cuốn Phượng – 68 Hàng Cót St., Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Broken rice with sweetened fish sauce Cơm tấm Ba Ghiền – 84 Đặng Văn Ngữ St., Phú Nhuận, HCMC
Mini pancakes with meat balls in fish sauce Bánh căn xíu mại Cây Bơ – 56 Tăng Bạt Hổ St., Đà Lạt
Huế dumplings with various types of fish sauce Bánh bèo nậm lọc Bà Đỏ – 8 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm St., Huế
Claypot fish braised in fish sauce Cá kho Ẩm Thực Lành – 44 Nguyễn Cư Trinh St., Ninh Kiều District, Cần Thơ
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