This versatile Vietnamese condiment brings zest to everything it touches.
I’ve been making Vietnam’s ubiquitous nước chấm for decades but still prepare it in stages to dial in the flavor. Much like making a vinaigrette, taste, taste, taste. Follow this recipe, then create your own formula. With the optional additions, choose chile for heat, garlic for pungency, and/or carrot for texture.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
- 2 to 2½ tablespoons sugar or 3 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ½ cup warm water or as needed
- 2 teaspoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar optional
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles thinly sliced (keep seeds intact); or 2 to 3 teaspoons chile garlic sauce or sambal oelek
- 1 large garlic clove minced
- ½ small carrot cut into thin matchsticks or coarsely grated
- In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the sugar (or 3 tablespoons of the maple syrup), 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, and the water. Taste the limeade and, if needed, add the remaining 1½ teaspoons sugar (or 1 tablespoon maple syrup) and/or 1 tablespoon lime juice; dilute with water if you go too far. If there’s an unpleasant tart-bitter edge, add the vinegar to fix the flavor.
- Add the fish sauce to the bowl; how much you use depends on the brand and your own taste. Aim for a bold, forward finish that’s a little gutsy. (Keep in mind that this sauce typically dresses dishes that include unsalted ingredients such as lettuce and herbs, which will need an extra flavor lift.) If desired, add the chiles, garlic, and/or carrot. (Offer the chiles on the side if diners are sensitive to their heat.) The sauce can sit at room temperature for up to 8 hours until serving.
- Set the sauce at the table so diners may help themselves, or portion it out in small bowls in advance of serving.