Nuoc Cham (Chili Sauce for Dipping)

Serving Size:

Dried red chilies
Cloves garlic
Fish sauce
Lemon juice
  • The red stuff can be had in stores. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a green lid and a red rooster on the plastic. Or in smaller glass jars. It's called "Tuong ot toi Viet Nam" (tung ot toy) and is nothing more than red chiles mashed up with a bit of garlic. You could easily make it by smashing up a handful of the little red hot peppers and a couple of cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle. There's a similar Filipino sauce called "Sambal Oeleck"++virtually the same but with the addition of vinegar. Here's my favorite recipe for nuoc cham. I have some variants if you'd like to see those too. I use it on a lot of stuff++it's very good with poached or white cooked chicken, thousand year eggs, shrimp chips.
  • Mince chilies and garlic finely and place in a mortar. Mash with the heel of a cleaver or pestle. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add fish sauce, vinegar and lemon juice, stirring between each addition. This makes enough for 2 to 4 people. I almost always double the recipe just to make sure there's enough. I've kept it for long periods of time but unless you freeze it, it's past it's prime after a few days.
  • This is a basic chili sauce used for a dip for chicken or whatever. Variations of this are found in Cambodia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. You can fiddle with it endlessly. This is a good starting point. The proportions shown here produce what I consider a mildly warm dip. I generally use two to six times as many chilies, depending on their strength and how hot I want it.
  • VARIATIONS: Use green serrano chilies instead of dried red ones, thinly slice a red or green chili into rounds and toss them in, lime juice instead of the lemon juice or palm sugar instead of granulated. If you make it in a food processor, don't over process. It should have small chunks of each ingredient rather than being a homogeneous liquid. The taste is sour and hot, very puckery. It's great with poached or steamed chicken, duck or game hens. Much better with basically bland dishes rather than something like curry which has it's own blend of spices. Good with Chinese white-cut chicken or Steamed Ginger Chicken with Black Bean sauce. It's truly addictive and I often serve it with meals that are not Oriental in origin. Should be good with a firm- fleshed white fish or boiled shrimp or crab. Fish sauce is a liquid made with anchovies and salt. It's not really fishy tasting. Look for it in the oriental section of supermarkets or at markets catering to Asian clientele. Tiparos is a good brand made in the Philippines. I prefer Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, but they'll probably be harder to find. A timesaver is to combine large quantities of the liquid ingredients and store them in the fridge. Then, when you want some Nuoc Cham, just chop up the chilies and garlic, pound them with the sugar and add them to the liquid.
From "Great Asia Steambook" by Irene Wong. Published by Taylor and Ng, distributed by Random House. 1977. ISBN 0-912738-11-1.

copyright 2008