Basic Dipping Sauce: Nuoc Cham

Basic Dipping Sauce: Nuoc Cham
by Andrea Nguyen

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


1/3 cup fresh lime juice (2 or 3 limes)
1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar (optional)
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm water
5 to 6 tablespoons fish sauce
2 or 3 Thai or serrano chiles, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)


1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, sugar, and water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the flavors to balance the sweet and sour as needed.

2. Add the fish sauce, starting out with 5 tablespoons and then adding more as your palate dictates, balancing the sour, sweet, and salty. How much fish sauce you use depends on the brand and your own taste. Aim for a light honey or amber color and a bold, forward finish. Keep in mind that this sauce is typically used to dress dishes that include unsalted ingredients like lettuce and herbs-ingredients that will need an extra flavor lift. When you're satisfied, add the chiles and garlic. (If diners are sensitive to chile heat, serve the chiles on the side.)

3. Put the sauce on the table so that diners can serve themselves, or portion it out in advance for serving. It may be prepared early in the day and left at room temperature until serving.

Note: When using both garlic and chiles in the sauce, try pounding them together with a pinch of sugar in a mortar. This quickly releases their oils (helpful if you are in a hurry) and gives the sauce an appealing orange cast.