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Nuoc Cham, Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Nuoc Cham, Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
February 20, 2014 Kyle Hildebrant
Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Nước Chấm is magical, like a glutamic acid-spitting komodo dragon capable of granting culinary wishes. That kind of magical. The Vietnamese understand this. It’s high time we white folk caught on.

I‘ve often been known to exaggerate, but I’m deathly serious when I tell you that this simple dipping sauce will change the way you eat. And by that, I mean you’ll find yourself preparing food with the sole purpose of being drown in the sauce. Nuoc Cham is the quintessential Vietnamese dipping sauce. It’s a simple mixture of fish sauce (nước mắm), water, lime juice, sugar, garlic and chilies. Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, with umami kick. What more can you ask for? I prefer to split the lime with rice wine. It is less traditional, but I like the balance that it brings. I also use a bit less sugar than you often see.
If you commonly shy away from fish sauce, I implore you to give this a try. It’s so much more. And it’s anything but fishy. We recently conducted a tasting of fish sauce brands, Red Boat surfaced as our brand of choice. 

Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Nước Chấm is magical; like a glutamic acid-spitting komodo dragon capable of granting culinary wishes. That kind of magical. The Vietnamese understand this. It's well time we white folk caught on.
  1. 120 mL (approx. 1/2 cup) fish sauce (Red Boat brand)
  2. 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) water, or coconut water, hot
  3. 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) rice wine vinegar
  4. 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) lime juice
  5. 30 grams (approx. 1/8 cup) sugar
  6. 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  7. 1 to 3 bird's eye chilies, red, thinly sliced
Optional Additions
  1. 1 to 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
  2. Spring onions, very thinly sliced
  1. Slice chilies thinly. Split and deseed for less heat. Combine sugar with hot water to dissolve. Add remainder of ingredients and stir to combine.
  1. Sesame oil and/or spring onions make great, non-traditional additions. Coconut water is an excellent substitution for water as well. Always taste your chilies before adding; some are hot, some are not.
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  1. Jessi 9 years ago

    Awesome stuff!! I just discovered your blog the other day with the Fish Sauce taste test – my new favorite condiment. Had to go out & buy more as I used up a bottle making some nuoc cham to use as salad dressing. It’s a good thing I bought 3 bottles, as I’ll be making a lot more nuoc cham.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Jessi — Thank you! Fish sauce is excellent as a component in a caesar dressing, if you haven’t tried that. Can I ask how you found the blog?

      • Jessi 9 years ago

        I can’t remember who, but someone had posted a link to your Fish Sauce Taste Test on Facebook early in the week. I’ve seen a lot about Red Boat so I headed on over to see what you had to say about that and some of the others I’ve had. Have not tried a caesar dressing – will do. I’ve been using it on roasted veggies and as part of a marinade for seared steak.

  2. Can’t wait to try!

  3. Jeffrey Thomas 9 years ago

    Used your nuoc cham recipe last night for a family feast of goi cuon and bun thit nuong and it was perfect. The use of coconut water really elevates the sauce and adds a sweetness that allows for less sugar (as you know, some nuoc cham recipes call for 1/2 cup sugar).Question: if you are making a batch for long term storage, do you strain out the peppers so they don’t get bitter? Same with chili vinegar? Keep on with this great blog, it is inspiring!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Jeffrey — It makes me very happy to hear this worked for you. As far as chillies are concerned, I don’t think they should get bitter. There’s enough acidic content in the mixture that is should remain stable for quite some time. That said, it’s never lasted more than a couple weeks in our refrigerator. I have kept a bottle of the Pepper Sauce for more than a year using the same chillies and unrefrigerated (assuming that’s the “chili vinegar” you’re referring to?).

  4. Chris Lee 9 years ago

    Kyle, when you have it hanging around in the fridge, what do you usually end up eating it with?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Chris — Man, when I say we put it on everything, I really mean it. It’s great with most all proteins, we love it over Hainanese chicken and rice. It’s great on a simple steak. David Chang at Momofuku puts it on his roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts, sprinkled with rice crispies. It’s great on roast veg in general. And I put it on a Japanese-style omelet, made with a touch of soy sauce and mirin. That’s one of my favorite weekend breakfast foods.

  5. Robin 9 years ago

    Great site Kyle! And THANK YOU for your fish sauce report. Absolutely love using the sauce but kind of over whelming when I visit my favorite store in Seattle. Love making my own dipping sauce for pot stickers which I eat often. Going to buy Red
    Boat 40 tomorrow! Subscribed to your blog. Can’t wait for the next one!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      I’m very glad to hear it, Robin. Thanks for taking the time to share. Let us know what you think.

  6. Chris 9 years ago

    hey Kyle, this article is awesome. I love fish sauce but there are so many on the shelves it’s hard to know what to buy. good to have a reference now, thanks.

  7. Michael Baum 9 years ago

    Glad you posted on the charcuterie FB page. Another great blog to follow!

  8. HGN 8 years ago

    Kyle, keep up the good work- found your web site by accident when I was web searching to see what all fish sauce brands that are available- one variation on making good Vietnamese dipping sauce is to saute some shallots in veg.oil until light golden then just add the shallot and oil mixture to your dipping sauce recipe- great over rice or rice noodles.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Glad to hear it. Thanks for taking the time to comment. That sounds good. I like to incorporate sesame oil and scallions as well.

  9. Scott Mitchell 8 years ago

    Had this tonight for the first time. We loved it. Served it over simple SV Halibut filet with roasted green beans and sticky rice; little fresh-pickled cucumber-but the sauce made the whole thing great. Thanks for the inspiration once again…

  10. Chas 8 years ago

    You can earn some extra money from your site, i see couple opportunities here.
    You should search in google for:
    Yoogurn’s money making

  11. Juny Padilla 8 years ago

    Just found your site through histogram….I love it brother…keep up the great work!!

  12. George 8 years ago

    I found your site because I needed to know how Squid brand fish sauce compared with other brands. VERY glad I read your taste test results. I’ve got a bottle of Red Boat ordered and I’m ready for my cooking to taste much better.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Happy to hear it. Be sure to report back and let us know what you think.

  13. v 6 years ago

    When you say you prefer to “split the lime with rice wine,” do you mean you have done so for the purposes of this recipe, or that you suggest we alter accordingly (15ml lime juice to 45ml rice wine)?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      You can alter accordingly, if desired. Try both ways and see what you like.

  14. Mitchell 6 years ago

    I want to send you an award for most helpful intnreet writer.

  15. You’re the greatest! JMHO

  16. californiaqueen 6 years ago

    “it’s about time we white folk caught on…” so … this is a white-only site?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you’re not asking a rhetorically sarcastic question.

      No. But I, as the only author, am a “white guy”. And thus the “we white folk” expression, used loosely and in a self-deprecating manner.

  17. Rumi 4 years ago

    I am forever searching for a great caesar salad dressing recipe. You mention one above. Any pointers on recipes, please? Thanks!

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