Nước mắm chấm is a dipping sauce that has the power to elevate any Vietnamese dish and possesses a flavour that is solely identifiable to Vietnam and its culture. A sauce that is savoury, yet sweet, sour, and spicy is one that many struggle to master consistently, due to the difficult task of balancing its conflicting main ingredients: fish sauce, vinegar and citrus.
Using the right fish sauce base plays an important role in finding that unique balance in nước mắm chấm. A fish sauce that’s too salty will demand a greater ratio of acidity and sugar, whereas a fish sauce that is low on salt but high in umami will require less offsetting and result in a dipping sauce that is mellow, yet retaining its deep and bold characteristics. For this reason I am quite particular, and there are only a few fish sauce brands that I will use.
For this reason I am quite particular, and there are only a few fish sauce brands that I will use. Mum has always taught me that nước mắm needs to be made in a mortar and pestle to achieve the desired flavours and its vibrant colour. Grinding and pounding with a mortar and pestle extracts the essential oils from the garlic and chilli but also gives the sauce an inviting orange glow.
Mum also uses a combination of limes and vinegar to complete her Nước mắm. In recent years, I’ve substituted vinegar with apple cider vinegar ─ to her approval! ─ and now claim it as my secret nước mắm ingredient. Apple cider vinegar compared to white vinegar has lower acetic acid content, resulting in a smoother, less sour profile. Even if you’re already confident with your nước mắm recipe, do yourself a favour and grab a bottle of apple cider vinegar and try it for yourself. You will see how this simple twist can round off your nuoc mam’s flavour!
3 birds eye chillies (De-seeded for a mild nuoc cham or omit for a kid-friendly nuoc mam)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of sugar
25ml of hot water
25ml of cold water
1 tablespoon of lime juice
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
Dissolve sugar in hot water.
In mortar and pestle, crush and pound chillies and garlic into a paste.
Add lime, apple cider vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar dissolved in hot water then mix well.
Add cold water and mix well.