Fish sauce, or nuoc mam, is a master Vietnamese sauce used both as seasoning and as a dipping sauce. Chang says his fish sauce vinaigrette is lighter and sweeter than traditional fish sauce, but I’d have to disagree. The sauce is sweeter, but I found that it had more of a fish sauce flavour than more traditional fish sauces I’ve tasted.
Everyone has different spice tolerance and ever since I’ve been married to Mike (who’s Vietnamese), I’ve found my spice tolerance go way up. I remember eating dinner at his parents’ place early on in our relationship. We were having grilled beef wrapped in rice paper and there was a big bowl of nuoc mam on the table for dipping and I kid you not, the sauce was a sea of red chili peppers. It was hot, but when Mike’s mom asked if it was good, all I could do was whimper out a “yes” while my eyes were watering from the red chilies. Eating spicy food is like building up your alcohol tolerance; have a little at a time and soon, it takes a lot more to get your tongue burning or your head spinning.
Everybody makes their fish sauce differently, so it’s easy to make it to taste. Combine fish sauce, water, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, sugar, minced garlic and sliced red bird’s eye chilies. Chang’s recipe tells you to just combine everything in a jar, but I usually see Vietnamese people use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and chilies.
Fish sauce vinaigrette is a simple, yet complex robust sauce good on almost any meat, but especially good on grilled meat or seafood. Fish sauce is spicy, sweet and addictive.