Nuoc Cham, Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

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.
Ingredients
  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
Instructions
  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.
Notes
  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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18 Responses to “Nuoc Cham, Vietnamese Dipping Sauce”

  1. Jessi February 21, 2014 at 5:18 am #

    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.

    • Kyle Hildebrant February 21, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      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 February 22, 2014 at 8:30 am #

        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. Brandon Mcfly Kelly February 21, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Can’t wait to try!

  3. Jeffrey Thomas March 13, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    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!

    • Kyle Hildebrant March 13, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      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 March 26, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

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

    • Kyle Hildebrant March 28, 2014 at 9:04 am #

      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 April 26, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    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!

    • Kyle Hildebrant April 28, 2014 at 8:16 am #

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

  6. Chris May 4, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    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 July 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

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

  8. HGN August 12, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    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.

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 17, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      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 August 13, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    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…

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