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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuong Ot Xa (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce)

Each fall when the chili peppers ripened, my ba noi (paternal grandmother) would grind what seemed like endless amounts of fresh chilies in the food processor. There'd be jars and jars of chili sauce, which she doled out to everyone in the family. A spoonful here or there would liven up any dipping sauce. A few months ago when I came across Andrea of Viet World Kitchen's mention of adding lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and fish sauce, I knew it would kick up the chili sauce another notch.

Tuong Ot Xa 1

So for my first experiment, I gathered a couple stalks of lemongrass, a handful of fresh chilies from my youngest uncle's garden, a handful of dried chili pods, some chili sauce I already had in my fridge, and Sriracha hot sauce for color. The result was so tasty that I figured I'd make some to share.

Tuong Ot Xa 2

So I went back to my youngest uncle's garden and picked a couple more lemongrass stalks and a little of each variety of chilies. I still added in dried chili pods, Sriracha hot sauce, and half a dozen garlic cloves.

Tuong Ot Xa 3

And ended up with a small pot of lemongrass chili sauce to pass along to my aunts and uncles. This sauce was a big hit with my youngest aunt's family and the older '88 even asked to take some with her back to college.

Tuong Ot Xa 4

Then it got a little insane. At one point, I counted eight kinds of chili peppers in my sauce. And while I was making this in the kitchen, a friend in the front of the house was coughing from the chili fumes. I guess I've become a little immune but this stuff can be as potent as you want it to be. My youngest uncle then gave me a whole colander full of chili peppers and told me to make some more sauce, especially to give some to my parents. My dad eats fresh chili with everything. He takes a bite of raw chili in between other bites when he's eating.

Tuong Ot Xa 5

So yes folks, I made a 14-inch wok-sized amount of chili sauce.

Tuong Ot Xa 6

Mmm. Look at all that lovely chili and lemongrass.

Tuong Ot Xa 7

Which, in keeping with my grandma's tradition, I jarred and passed along to family members and friends. Henry's mom was a big fan and not-so subtly requested a second jar after the first one ran out. Oh, this wasn't the last batch. I made another batch of two 24-oz and 68-oz jars of sauce, which my parents shared with my aunts in Oregon, but I guess I forgot to photograph that batch. My second-youngest aunt's husband couldn't stop raving about it, which resulted in my cousin T asking for some of her parents' supply of my sauce.

Tuong Ot Xa 8

My recipe is only an approximation. Truthfully, I didn't measure anything at all but tasted as I went along, sometimes gulping a glass of water in between a particularly spicy spoonful. We all have different spicy tolerance levels so adjust according to your taste.  

Tuong Ot Xa (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce) 
Adapted from Andrea of Viet World Kitchen's Vietnamese-style sate chile sauce

For about 2 cups of chili sauce, you'll need:
1 1/2 cups fresh chili peppers of your choice
For color, 1/2 cup of dried chili pods or 1/4 cup Sriracha chili hot sauce
2 lemongrass stalks, finely minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 shallots, or 1 small onion, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp white vinegar
2 to 4 tblsp fish sauce
1/2 to 1 cup, or more vegetable oil, or a neutral-tasting oil. Olive and sesame oils would be too overpowering.

I pureed the ingredients and cooked the chili sauce in the pan as I went along as lemongrass takes a little longer to soften. If you don't want to do that, you can mince everything separately and set aside the ingredients before cooking. Below are the steps that I went about in making the sauce.

Heat stove to medium and pour about 1/4 cup oil.

Puree lemongrass in food processor until finely minced and add to hot oil. Give it a quick stir.

Then puree about half a dozen cloves of garlic and 4 shallots or 1 small onion. Add that to the pan, turn heat down to medium-low so they don't burn, and give it another quick stir.

Then puree the fresh and dried chili peppers in several small batches, stirring in between. When the lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and chilies have all been added, they'll start releasing their own oils. If the sauce seems too dry, add more oil so that the chili is just lightly covered. This keeps the chili sauce from drying out and helps to preserve its color.

Add 1/4 cup Sriracha chili hot sauce or dried red peppers, 1 tblsp vinegar, 2 tsp salt, 1 tblsp sugar, and 2 to 4 tblsp fish sauce. Stir again. Taste and adjust if necessary.

Let simmer on low for about 10 minutes so the flavors can meld. There should be just a subtle sweetness from the sugar, a bit of savoriness from the fish sauce, a slightly fragrant aroma from the lemongrass, and as spicy as you want it.

Store in jars in the fridge.


Who made my recipe for tuong ot xa?
Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok said, "Holy shit is it good! Even while it was cooking, I could tell it was going to kick ass because the aroma was divine. "
Vicki of A Work in Progress said, "Either WC has an extremely high tolerance for pain, or I used some damn-hot chilis! However, it's soooo tasty. I can't wait to put it on absolutely everything."
Miss.Adventure @Home said, "The aroma was so delicious that I kept trying it even though it was very spicy...I mixed the hoisin sauce with my new chili sauce. It added so many more dimensions to the dipping sauce! I think I especially liked the flavour the lemongrass added."
Shelly in Real Life said, "I’ve been using this sauce for about a month on almost EVERYTHING – it’s my new sriracha!!"

My other Vietnamese chili sauce recipe: Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese Garlic Chili Sauce)

  I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging, a world-wide food blogging event created by Kalyn's Kitchen celebrating herbs, vegetables, or flowers. If you'd like to participate, see who's hosting this week. WHB is hosted this week by Erin of The Skinny Gourmet.


  1. I love this sauce - it's perfect for topping anything but it makes instant ramen taste like chic-chic ramen :) I'll have to make this soon - thanks for posting the recipe and photos for it.

  2. I love a good chili sauce and yours looks so delicious. Your photos are beautiful too. Nice work!

  3. Oh my. Just reading this makes my eyes water. But very cool to see all the different kinds of chilis grown by your family :-)

  4. lemongrass in chili sauce! Brilliant!~

  5. Pho Van in East Portland has a sauce on the tables that I absolutely love. This seems to be very close. Thanks for the recipe. I'll try it.

  6. wow, you must have a crapload of chilis in your garden. that's a lot of sauce!

    btw, i ate at boiling crab in alhambra for the first time yesterday. it was sooooo frigin good! We didn't have any crawfish like you did, but we had shrimp and crab legs. there was so much meat in those crab legs!

  7. MMmmmmm - that's a huge wokful of chilli sauce! And all home grown as well!

  8. I've never tried this before. Does it taste anything like sambal oelek? I guess the lemongrass must make a bit of a difference. mmmm yummy

  9. This chilli sauce can only be good! Can I have a bottle? :P

  10. that looks amazing...I love chili pastes of all kinds...especially the ones containing garlic...it gives any meal a very nice flavor...*lips smacking*

  11. i could never eat dumplings without chili sauce. thanks for sharing this recipe: i love the idea of lemon grass and chili together..i could alread feel the taste

  12. that looks and sounds so delicious!

  13. It does sound wonderful. I love this type of spicy sauce as a flavoring, although I have to use just a tiny bit! Also, just think it's wonderful that you're making something that's a family tradition.

  14. Ooh, sounds delightfully spicy! Mmm.

  15. As soon as I catch my breath, I'll post a comment.................there, I think I'm able now! Your photos are gorgeous and I canNOT wait to try some of your recipes - I came over from nikkipolani's site where I am absolutely in love with her pork. I'm so glad to have found you now!

  16. Wow your dad sounds awesome, alternating bites of chili and food! And wow that is one big wokful of chili sauce.

  17. Christine,
    Just add a bit of lemongrass to those jars of tuong ot toi that you made and you're done! :)


    I knew you'd get a kick out of the gardening part of this post.

    Yes, if I do say so myself. ;)

    I haven't been to Pho Van in a long time but they used to just have regular chili garlic sauce. Unless things have changed?

    You finally went. Boiling Crab is awesome! Did you get the king crab legs then? I'm all about the Dungeness.

    Where've you been hiding lady?

    It's sambol oelek with nuoc mam and xa. :)

    If you were still in NorCal, I would have sent up a jar to you. But I can't afford to send it to Taiwan!

    Just a spoonful of this livens up any dish. It's good just with plain rice too.

    Dumplings with this chili sauce and soy sauce and rice vinegar and it's perfect!

    It is! :P

    It's not really so much of a family tradition as it is that my family always shares our food.

    It's super-spicy. I had to drink a glass of water in between tastes.

    Any blog friends of Nikki's is welcome here! :)

    My dad's spicy tolerance is insane! And can you believe that whole wok is gone and I have to make another batch?

  18. Yes, Pho Van has only recently started putting their own-made sauce on the table.

  19. Johta,
    Ah, well, that's good to know! I'll have to try it next time I'm there.

  20. My mouth/eyes are watering just looking by at the pictures!

  21. Jeannie,
    Hehe. I can't believe I made several wok-sized amounts of chili sauce and still need to make more.

  22. I just made this sauce today using your recipe and it is great! I never knew it was so easy. Thanks!

  23. WC, that was very nice of you to send us some of your sauce. I took a whiff of it and it smells amazing. I will probably make some mi noodles/hu tieu this week and add the sauce! I was thinking this might also be really good for hot pot... either as a dipping sauce or broth enhancer. mmm vietnamese style hot pot?? thanks again.

  24. Wow. This just looks perfect. I've got this bookmarked.

  25. Dylan,
    Can't wait to see what you end up making with it.

    I almost sent you some! Maybe I should have?

  26. interesting. seems to be a somewhat similar technique to making nasi goreng spice

  27. Jeremy,
    Interesting indeed! I always thought nasi goreng spice was lots of kecap manis and shallots. :)

  28. I've been a "lurker" on your blog, but I just wanted to stop by and say a) thanks for such a great blog, i love Vietnamese food and all your posts have been great resource for me; b) i love hot sauce and have always wanted to make my own, i didn't decide to do it until i saw this particular recipe, i tried it today and it turned out great!! i never thought making a chili sauce is this easy.

    keep it up and thanks much!!

  29. ok i am attempting this this weekend. there's no mention of how long it'll last in the fridge? probably because everyone finishes it before too long? :)

  30. Shelly,
    Thanks! This has been one of my most popular posts, especially for chiliheads! :) The chili garlic sauce isn't half bad either.

    Yay! I'm sending off your package later today. Let's see how the taste-test compares, eh? :P

    It lasts pretty indefinitely. No worries of it spoiling in a week for sure. Mine have kept well for months and months. But yeah, I make a wokful every few months to satisfy my family members requests.

  31. Can this poor pregnant woman have some please? Lol, its making my mouth water :)

  32. Wow, did this kick my ass or what?? It's awesome. ty for this wonderful recipe :)

  33. Qutins,
    Ooh, glad you finally got some! Baby has a craving for spicy food? :)

  34. Nice work. I made a batch based on Andrea's post today. I have a long history of liking these types of sauces but not knowing all what is in them. Now that I have a batch made, I'm kind of ashamed I didn't make some sooner instead of subsisting on the dodgy imported stuff from Vietnam with the unsealed lids.

    I salute your huge wok full of sauce and your sharing ways.

    P.S. I have a great tomato chutney recipe that is a good shareable project sauce.

  35. JJ Moneysauce,
    It's always better to make your own sauces so you know exactly what you put into it. Tomato chutney sounds great. I love tomatoes.

  36. I have to say, I LOVE YOUR SITE AND BLOGS, we made like 10 of your recipes so far and its all thanks to you, I see you guys mentioned boiling crab and was wondering if you or anybody might have an idea on how to copy cat their recipe? Any help would be so appreciated , as you would know, going there can get expensive, I also love their G sauce for the oysters which are great. You can email me directly at tayjay08 at dslextreme.com. Just a heads up, I would also pay a finders fee if the recipe is just as good as them THANKS SO much and keep those recipes going.. our favorite so far is the coke pork and PHO!

  37. Michelle,
    I get so many requests for people trying to replicate Boiling Crab's recipe. I bet their competition would love to be able to get their hands on it. :P

    Thanks for trying so many of my recipes!

  38. Somebody mentioned boiling crab, this sauce really loooks like it. Is the taste similar at all or is this something different. Have you tasted the place? Its to die for. Are any of your recipes similar to the sauce? Would like to try it. Thanks!

  39. Tony,
    My lemongrass chili sauce is nothing like Boiling Crab's sauce. Umm, yes, I blogged two locations of Boiling Crab. And I do have a Cajun shrimp boil sauce that's not quite the same as Boiling Crab's, but is pretty tasty. I suggest you actually use the search bar or the recipe indexes, both of which would've have provided you the answers.

  40. I think this sounds great! What do you think about omitting the oil? I imagine I would have to process it in a hot water bath to preserve it, but my real question is whether it will affect the flavor considerably?

  41. Melissa,
    I haven't tried it without oil. My grandma used to just puree chilies with salt to preserve it. But that version didn't have all the flavoring of this one. I've tried making it with less oil, but the oil is really needed for preservation or else the chili changes color.

  42. Wise of you to select your peppers from the garden of your youngest uncle; not many know they are the finest for siracha sauce.

  43. JF Sebastian,
    Do you mean the original Thai Sriracha? Or the American Huy Fong brand Sriracha? Because the latter uses jalapenos grown in California, not Thai chili peppers.

  44. hey I dont wanna go thru the hassle of making it, where can I buy this? I always have them at Viet restaurants and absolutely love it . But when i ask where i can buy it, everybody gets quiet like I am asking a question thats illegal. Please tell me a source to buy this stuff. Thanks in advance.

  45. Ratin,
    If you like the version sold at the restaurant, just ask them to sell it to you. I haven't seen it in the grocery store myself, just other types of chile sauces. I sold a few jars in my Etsy shop, but not enough to make it worth the hassle. So your best bet is just to ask the restaurant to sell it to you.

  46. I love this recipe. It’s been a few years since I’ve made some. It is delicious! Just wear gloves while handling the chilis, I learned the hard way, haha!


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