How to Create a Basic Vietnamese Fish Sauce with this Nuoc Cham Recipe

How to prepare fish sauce

Authentic Vietnamese fish sauce and how to prepare uses the stovetop to quickly dissolve the sugar. From there, ingredients can be added to create something pungent and distinct, sweet and sour, or very spicy. In northern Vietnam, it’s customary to follow these sorts of recipes while adding broth from the pork loin. In central Vietnam, they generally use less water and add fresh chili achieving a less diluted fish sauce overall. In southern Vietnam, palm sugar and coconut water are used as sweeteners to add a little bit of that sugar flavor.

What is served with fish sauce?

There are so many foods you can match with a Vietnamese fish sauce. Nuoc mam pha is a delicious addition to dinners, lunches, and – albeit rarely – even breakfasts. Here are some favourite pairings.


? Spring rolls dipped in. Yum!
? Rice dishes with meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and vegetables.
? Shrimp salad rolls or rice paper rolls.
? Banh cuon.
? Pan-fried crepe made from rice flour and coconut milk, known as ‘banh xeo’.
? Thin vermicelli layered into sheets known as ‘banh hoi’.
? Rice noodles with meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, or vegetables in a dish known as ‘bun’.

A basic Vietnamese nuoc cham recipe

A basic Vietnamese nuoc cham recipe begins with combining 6 tablespoons of water with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl. Ensure the water’s warm. From there, add up to 2 tablespoons of lime or lemon juice. Use your taste as a judge. Ideally, it should resemble in taste a lemonade or limeade. Next, add two tablespoons of fish sauce to it. Again, add to taste. It should be on the strong side because it’s going on unseasoned food. That’s all you need. From there, topping it with some finely chopped garlic or Thai chilies is all you need to have it ready to serve.

Tips to help with making your nuoc cham stand out!

? Use warm water. Using cold water, you won’t be able to dissolve the sugar. Alternatively, the sugar might dissolve but it will take too long. This will throw off everything in your recipe.

? Use your taste buds when adding in lemon or lime because the acidity and flavor per fruit varies. Although size guidelines exist, you still want to use your tongue to ensure you’re receiving everything you want from your sauce.

? Do not substitute homemade combinations of water and lemon or water and lime with store-bought lemonade. Any sort of bottled juice isn’t going to work. The citrus oil smell eventually dissipates and all you’re left with is something very plain. The taste becomes very muted.

If you’re buying fish sauce, look for these things

When you make nuoc cham, chances are you will want to get a fish sauce that suits your preferences. The next time you’re at the grocery store, look for a traditional fish sauce made singularly from fish and salt. If there are cost-cutting preservatives or additives tossed in, this probably isn’t the type of fish sauce you’re used to in Vietnam.

Also, look at the nitrogen content. You will want something 30 degrees or higher. Don’t be surprised by discoloration in the sauce. Variations in color signify the type of weather that it was while the fish sauce was being made. If there wasn’t enough sun, for example, this results in increased time for the salt to separate from the fish extract. This means a darker, deeper sauce and a more complex flavor. Cloudy or dark sauce isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it means the protein content’s higher.

What should a healthy, well-made fish sauce taste like?

Unfortunately you can’t taste or smell the sauce while you’re buying it. If you could though, smelling something fishy is good but if it’s stinky, it’s not. There are some really, really strong-smelling fish sauces out there. A lot of them are rather delicious but in smelling them, be wary of taste. Secondly, a healthy high quality fish sauce will taste salty and with a sweet aftertaste. It shouldn’t taste bitter.

In Vietnam, it’s very common for families to be loyal to one brand. Think of it as a sort of Vietnamese ketchup in the sense that here in Canada, some people love Heinz and only buy Heinz while others love French, some families make their own, and there are other flavor varieties of course. In Vietnam, a household picks a fish sauce and they stick with it more or less. Creating your own nuoc cham at home is a fun activity and relatively easy although it does rely on an invaluable fish sauce selection.

The next time you’re looking for authentic Vietnamese eating in the GTA, visit TorontoPHO. Fish sauces, pho, salads, stir fries, rice vermicelli, and so much more. Enjoy!