Nước chấm — Vietnamese mixed fish sauce

April 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Nước chấm is the general name for the huge variety of fish sauce-based dipping sauces served with Vietnamese cuisine. This version is one my mum makes regularly to go with a whole shallow-fried snapper, and it’s so good I’d almost drink it. Keep in mind that this is the kind of recipe to make to taste, so keep tasting as you go to get the right balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy.

I’ve been advised by a Vietnamese mother that the secret to a good nước chấm is actually in the order of mixing ingredients, and the first thing you should do is mix the finely-chopped garlic with the citrus, I imagine this has the effect of slightly mellowing the garlic flavour. Also try and use Australian garlic as it has a far better flavour than the Chinese garlic you can buy here.

1 finely chopped garlic clove
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice (limes are so cheap right now!)

2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1-2 small (hot) red chillies, finely sliced

Put the finely-chopped garlic in a small bowl and pour over the lemon or lime (or both!) juice, give it a stir. Add the sugar then the warm water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the fish sauce, the vinegar and the chillies to taste. If you are feeding people who don’t like chillies, I suggest you find new friends. If that’s not an option (family ties, sigh), leave out most of the chillies and use individual sauce bowls with sliced chillies on the table so everyone can customise their own level of spice. This is pretty standard practice in Vietnam, where almost every meal is customisable with herbs, citrus, chilli, pickles and sauces.

This makes about 500 mls of sauce, and keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge. It’s made mostly of preservatives, after all.

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