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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)
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A quick and easy recipe for Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam) made with fish sauce with a balance of sweet, sour and salty flavors.
For this Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam) recipe, you can find most of the ingredients at a local grocery store with the exception of fish sauce. If you can’t find fish sauce in the ‘International’ aisle of your grocery store, then you can find it at an Asian grocery store or online – but I highly recommend buying it locally, since fish sauce that has been leaked from a broken bottle during shipping is quite potent and smelly.
Whenever I make Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam), I personally like to use fresh lime juice because of the additional flavor fresh limes give it. However, most Vietnamese dipping sauces made at restaurants usually use white vinegar or rice vinegar, mostly because it’s a lot cheaper to produce. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using vinegar! From time to time I will also use vinegar when I am out of limes at home as well.
SOAK THE GARLIC IN LIME JUICE TO REDUCE THE GARLICKY SPICY BITE
I learned this neat trick through Serious Eats – How to Tame Garlic’s Pungent Flavor. Ah, the beauty of food science! 🙂
This is a completely optional step. If you don’t mind the spiciness and sharp bite from raw garlic then there’s no need to soak the garlic in the lime juice beforehand 🙂
How long you can store this is highly dependent on whether you use vinegar in the sauce. If you are using only fresh lime juice, then I would not keep this for more than a week or two, but is best enjoyed fresh. If there is vinegar in it, you can keep it for about 2 months. Make sure you store it in an airtight jar in the fridge.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO USE NUOC CHAM / NUOC MAM
I like to use this stuff a lot, especially in the summertime so I like to double or triple the batch when I make it. Here are a few things you can serve this with if you have any extra dipping sauce!
DID YOU MAKE THIS VIETNAMESE FISH SAUCE DIPPING SAUCE (NUOC CHAM / NUOC MAM)?
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All calories and info are based on a third party calculator and are only an estimate. Actual nutritional info will vary with brands used, your measuring methods, portion sizes and more.
Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce
By Jill Selkowitz / Updated / As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs I earn from qualifying purchases; see all disclosures.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce is a sweet and complex Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce used as a condiment for Egg Rolls, Bun, Stir Fry and more.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce is a Vietnamese Dipping Sauce that is a sweet, slightly spicy, fish sauce used as a condiment for many Vietnamese dishes. I love to dip Vietnamese Eggrolls (oh my gosh, I love Vietnamese eggrolls, all wrapped up in a big lettuce leaf) in the sauce!
It is really good over Bun Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese BBQ Pork Noodle Salad), over White Rice and on many other things. It is super simple to make.
I always say to get the best ingredients your budget allows. My preference is the Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce. Thai Bird Chilies, which are very spicy, add a nice heat to the Nuoc Cham, but if you are not able to find those, a Serrano or Jalapeno will work, or you can just add a little extra of the Sambal Oelek Ground Fresh Chili Paste. Because I use a lot of limes in my cooking, I always have True Lime in my pantry in case I run out of fresh limes.
I promise you, True Lime tastes like you just went outside, picked a lime from your tree and squeezed it fresh. The whole line of True Lime/Lemon products are wonderful and I use the True Spices in my cooking.
You can use a mortar and pestle, or you can just toss everything into a food processor, blender or Vitamix, your choice. Make sure you refrigerate the Nuoc Cham for several hours before using to give the ingredients in the sauce a chance to incorporate.
Don’t forget to prepare your Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese BBQ Pork) for your Bun Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese BBQ Pork & Rice Noodles) too, as it also needs an overnight refrigeration.
Kitchen Equipment and Essentials
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Vietnamese Dressing And Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)
Nuoc mam cham is a simple Vietnamese dipping sauce made with rice vinegar, fish sauce, and sweetened with sugar that does double duty as a tasty salad dressing.
This easy recipe for nuoc cham Vietnamese dressing and dipping sauce turns a bowl of rice noodles with raw veggies into a spectacularly slurpable flavor bomb and it’s the last touch of zest when Vietnamese spring rolls pass your lips.
It may take a minute to figure out nuoc cham’s pronunciation when ordering at a restaurant, but once you make it at home, you’ll see this sauce is easy to master.
Now, don’t get all freaked out about one of the main ingredient of nuoc cham … fish sauce.
First question: What is fish sauce? Fish sauce is simply fermented fish that has broken down to become a tangy, funky sauce. It’s flavor is salty, earthy, a little bit caramel-y sweet, and totally distinct. A good quality, fish sauce hardly tastes fishy at all, and adds the unique salty bite that can’t be imitated by substituted ingredients in Vietnamese and Thai cooking.
When choosing fish sauce, always choose a high quality fish sauce that hasn’t been left opened in your cupboard for too long (the fishy flavor will become more pronounced.) And know that smaller quantities of the sauce goes a long way.
This is my favorite brand of quality fish sauce. It can be found online or at many Asian grocery stores.
Also, beware of confusing rice vinegar with rice WINE vinegar. This is how they’re different, producing very different tastes.
You can also add grated carrot or onion to the sauce for presentation or a squeeze of lime for more acid.
Recipes to Make With Vietnamese Dressing and Dipping Sauce
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Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)
Elevate your spring rolls with the most magical Vietnamese condiment of all. This Nuoc Cham Recipe has perfect levels of sour, sweet, salty, savory and spicy!
Well, it turns out you can make a delicious Vietnamese nuoc cham that will be the star of your dinner in no time flat! Seriously, five minutes in the kitchen is all it takes.
Today’s post is all about the most magical of Vietnamese condiments. How to make it, what to eat with it and even some culinary pitfalls to avoid.
If you’ve ever wondered about nuoc cham, this one is for you!
Nuoc cham is the absolutely delicious Vietnamese dipping sauce that tends to accompany fried spring rolls ( Chả giò), pan fried crepes ( Bánh xèo) and rice noodle dishes ( Bún).
This ubiquitous condiment is a mixture of fish sauce ( nước mắm), garlic, palm sugar, lime juice, a splash of water and (sometimes) bird’s eye chilis.
In this home chef’s opinion, the most important element to a good nuoc cham is finding the proper balance of sour, sweet, salty, savory and spicy.
However from an ingredients perspective, finding and using a good fish sauce – or nuoc mam – is the key to full on flavor!
I’m a big fan of (a Vietnamese fish sauce). I tend to use it when making dipping sauces, or when the fish sauce will be out front and super noticeable. Biggest drawback though is price. It’s pretty expensive compared to other brands.
When using fish sauce as an ingredient in a larger composed recipe, I tend to use , or Three Crabs .
They all differ slightly in saltiness and assertiveness. So, when it comes to finding your preferred brand, there may be a bit of trial and error involved.
Interesting note: Ben loves fish sauce so much that he lists the salty, briny, whiskey colored liquid as the number one reason he could never go fully vegan.
Yep, it’s that good!
Wait, isn’t it all fish sauce?
What’s the difference between nuoc mam and nuoc cham?
This bit confused me at one point too.
Nuoc mam is technically unadulterated fish sauce. Nuoc cham is the dipping sauce we’re making here today (that happens to use nuoc mam as a central ingredient).
Confused? Not to worry! Hereis a great article on the matter. And here is another!
Now, let’s get on to the important business… cooking and eating!
Dissolve in lukewarm water. Then whisk in lime, fish sauce, minced garlic and Thai chiles. I like to let my nuoc cham sit at room temperature for a few minutes so all of the flavors marry well. But that’s an optional step. You can dig in right away if you’d like.
It doesn’t get much more simple than that!
How does restaurant style nuoc cham differ from this one?
Most of the same ingredients tend to be in use when you get your spring roll sauce or dipping sauce for your Vietnamese bun delivered to the table when dining out.
However, I’ve found – at many Vietnamese restaurants in the States, their nuoc cham recipes can tend to be on the sweeter side. More so than the well balanced mixes I’ve had in Vietnam. That heavy handedness with the sugar can result in a nuoc cham that loses some of it’s natural nuance.
That said, there’s a place in our neighborhood in Brooklyn that has a nuoc cham sauce so finely tuned, I feel like I’m sitting on a small plastic stool in Hue inhaling my noodles every time we drop in for a bite.
I’d like to think that my own mixture is closer to a well balanced, authentic nuoc cham – with the fish sauce and chili a bit more forward in the mix.
You’ll just have to try it and decide for yourself!
The Vietnamese language is full of rising, falling and flat tones that can render the same word with different meanings depending on the delivery. Getting it right can seem like an impenetrable fortress to someone just getting started.
For me, I just had to get used to the fact that I’m saying stuff the wrong way when I travel and when I eat out.
The phonetic spelling is: nɨ́ək tɕə̌m.
But that doesn’t clear much up, right?!
To say nuoc cham with something approaching accuracy, say nuoc as ‘nook’ (like the Barnes & Noble e-reader). And say cham as ‘chum’ (like an old friend from your days at school).
That’s how it was explained to me – and it’s worked at restaurants sufficiently well to this point!
No matter how you say it, though – the most important thing about food is that it tastes delicious and makes you want more.
I hope you love this nuoc cham recipe as much as I do – and that it elevates your spring rolls to pro-status!
Other simple, delicious Vietnamese recipes:
Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)
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