I've said before that I hardly ever make my own fish dipping sauces. After all, even though we split it up, my brother and I still haven't made much headway into the 56-oz jar of fish sauce that my mom brought down last year.
Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) is a vital part of most Vietnamese dishes. Most Vietnamese just say nuoc mam to refer to all fish dipping sauces, but there are distinctions. There aren't hard and fasts rules, as it depends on your personal preference, so I'm grouping both of these fish dipping sauces together in case you prefer one or the other.
In general, I use nuoc mam cham ngot (Vietnamese sweetened fish dipping sauce) for pouring on dumplings, savory crepes, and noodles. The sweetened fish dipping sauce, tends to be diluted with water and just has fish sauce, sugar, and vinegar. Nuoc mam cham (Vietnamese fish dipping sauce), is slightly more pungent with garlic and chili peppers, and is used for dipping vegetables or rice paper rolls or as a dressing for salads.
It's easy enough to make a big jar and store it in the refrigerator. I tend to use vinegar so the fish sauce won't spoil. Then if you wish, just squeeze in fresh lime juice before serving to brighten it up.
Nuoc Mam Cham Ngot (Vietnamese Sweetened Fish Dipping Sauce)
For a 24-oz jar, you'll need:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Optional: Chili peppers
Boil 1/2 cup water. Actually, you don't have to boil the water, just get it hot so that it can dissolve the sugar more easily. Stir in 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup fish sauce, and 1/2 cup sugar. Taste and adjust if necessary. Add crushed chili peppers if you wish.
The taste should be slightly sweet and rather mild, the pungency of the fish sauce quite muted.
Store in a jar in the fridge. Serve with dumplings.
In you're feeling the need for more of a kick, then make the saltier version of nuoc mam cham, which omits the water and adds garlic and chili peppers. I usually make this version in small batches with fresh garlic and chili peppers when I want to dip or to toss with salads.
Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce)
For about 1/2 cup, you'll need:
1/4 cup Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
2 tblsp sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 chili pepper
While you can certainly mince the garlic and chili pepper, I think the flavors come out better by slowly grinding in a mortar and pestle. Add 2 cloves garlic, 1 chili pepper, and 2 tblsp sugar. Add the sugar last so that it keeps the garlic and chili pepper from bouncing out of the mortar.
Grind the mixture until you get a relatively smooth paste. Then scrape the mixture into a bowl, add 1/4 cup fish sauce and the juice of 1 or 2 limes. Taste. Adjust if necessary. If it's too pungent, dilute with water.
Use as a dip or as a dressing for salads.
My other Vietnamese dipping sauces:
Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce)
Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
Nuoc Mam Gung (Vietnamese Ginger Fish Sauce)
1 year ago today, Kimchee Pajeon (Korean Pickled Napa Cabbage Pancake).