Updated October 2011.
When you taste something wonderful in a restaurant, and you ask for the recipe, and the owner himself shares the recipe with you — and you've written it down, so you won't leave anything out — you expect to be able to recreate that wonderful taste in your own kitchen.
So why did it take me years to make nuoc cham, the mother condiment of all Vietnamese cuisine, that tastes like it does in a restaurant?
The answer is in the fish sauce, and, as I discovered, all fish sauce is not created equal.
Asian fish sauce, made from anchovies, salt and water, is called nuoc mam in Vietnam, and in Thailand, nam pla. It's salty, and smelly, and indispensable in Vietnamese and Thai cooking, where it plays the role soy sauce plays in Chinese cookery. The quality and taste of fish sauces vary widely, and I tried many before I found one that yielded the taste I was seeking.
Three Crabs brand is the one I've been using for years. It's a bit different from other fish sauces available in my Asian supermarket, because it contains fructose, which makes it sweeter and also smoother than the naturally processed brands. To me, all that matters is that Three Crabs makes authentic-tasting nuoc cham, an all-important condiment and dipping sauce for salad rolls (see tomorrow's post) and noodle salads.
Oh...it's great in other Asian recipes, too.
Nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce)
Keeps in the fridge for a month or more. Makes 1-1/2 cups (approx.).
1/2 tsp chili paste with garlic (Lan Chi brand is best)
2/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
1/4 cup fish sauce (use Three Crabs brand with pink label to achieve best flavor)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Place all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake!
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Wake-up-your-mouth Thai cucumber salad, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Cucumber salad with tomato, bell pepper, and spicy Thai lime vinaigrette, from Andrea Meyers
Asian chicken wings, from White on Rice Couple
Noodles with spicy peanut sauce, from The Amateur Gourmet
General Tso's Chicken, from Appetite for China
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