The Vietnamese word for fish sauce is nuoc mam, which is a true translation of the pure fish sauce. But when we say we are going to make nuoc mam, we are not making fish sauce, but we’re using the fish sauce to make a dipping sauce. Kinda confusing now that I think of it. Growing up mom always made nuoc mam. I actually never had to make it till I start living with my bf at that time. He was always the one who made nuoc mam. It took me lots of practice to make the nuoc mam taste like the one mom use to make. If you do like I do you’ll end up with a tasty sauce that balance out the sweetness, saltiness and sourness.For nuoc mam you need the fish sauce. I know there are several different brands, but anyone of them is good.
I used 2 cloves of garlic, more then half a lemon and 2 table spoons of sugar.I sliced the garlic added them to the sugar and for a little bit of heat I added some chili pepper. You can use as much or as little garlic and chili pepper as you want. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and the chili pepper. The sugar will prevent them from escaping.
Then use a fork to squeeze all the juice you can get from half a lemon. Stir everything together.
In the meantime I boiled some water. I like to use boiled water because it dissolves the sugar faster and it will cook of the strong raw garlic flavor. Depending on how much nuoc mam you need you can start with half a cup of water.
Now you’ll have to taste the sauce. You’re looking for a nice balance between sweet and sour. Some people like it more sweet, some more sour. Depending on your own taste buts. Discard the garlic, you’ll taste and smell it, but you’ll have to concentrate on the sweet and sour first. Once you got that down it is time to finish it off.
Now it’s time to add the saltiness. Since I don’t know how much water you used, you’ll have to just start squeezing some fish sauce in the water. Once the water reaches a pale light brown color it is time to give it another taste. If it is not salty enough, you can always add more fish sauce. If it is too salty you can add some more water. The tricky part is to find a nice balance. Remember the darker the color, the more salty the sauce will be.
I tried to teach my little sister how to make it and her first time turned out awful. The sauce was sooo dark and soooo salty. But her friends liked it. Cuz they probably didn’t know better. Well every first is difficult, but I don’t think she ever tried to make it again. No need when your big sister (me) and your mom can make it.
My father in law always makes nuoc mam. He follows the same recipe every time and it works out great. I on the other hand, always wing it depending on how much lemon I have at the house and how much nuoc mam I need. Somehow I always end up making to much. Since this fish sauce is not to salty it pairs nicely with some bunh thit nuong (noodles with bbq meat) or some banh cuong (fresh spring rolls). It’s even great to use it as a dip for steamed veggies. Once you know how to make this sauce the possibilities are endless.