Condiments/Sauces · Vietnamese

Basic Nước Chấm {Vietnamese Dipping Sauce}

Nước Chấm | Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Chances are, if you have had Vietnamese food, you’ve had some version of nước chấm.

Bún Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese Grilled Pork over Vermicelli Noodles)
Nước Chấm (also called nước mắm pha) is a quintessential fish sauce-based dipping sauce served with a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes. And it’s the balance of salty, sweet and acidity that makes it the perfect condiment.

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Crepe)
You’ll see it with anything from cơm (rice plates), bún (noodle dishes), gỏi (salads), bánh (cakes – usually savory), cuốn (rolls) or even just with proteins.

Gỏi Mít Trộn (Vietnamese Young Jackfruit Salad)
Depending on the dish, nước chấm can vary a bit but it all starts with a similar base: fish sauce, sugar, water and lime juice (or vinegar).

Chả Cá Thăng Long (Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric & Dill)
From there you can add things like fresh ginger and have Nước Mắm Gừng. This ginger variation is most often served with poultry or seafood.

Cơm Sườn Nướng - Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops
When served along rice noodle bowls, you’ll find shredded carrots and daikon in it.

Phở Gà
And in some cases, proteins are served in nước chấm as with the classic Bún Chả Hà Nội. With this dish, grilled pork and ground pork patties are served in a bowl of nước chấm that also contain fresh green papaya slices in it.

Chả Giò
Since nước chấm is such a staple, I almost always have a big batch of the standard version in my fridge ready to be doctored up if need be. And in most cases, this basic version is perfect as is.

The biggest challenge to this dipping sauce is finding the right balance between the very few ingredients it requires. Trust me, I’ve spent my early years making sauces that were either too sweet or too salty or just bland. Thankfully, I finally was able to get a good ratio down that yields reliable results.

Thịt Bò Nướng Lá Lốt (Vietnamese Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves)
One thing to keep in mind is that depending on the brand of nước mắm (fish sauce) that you use, you will have to adjust to taste. Some brands are less filtered and are more pungent –not a bad thing, just something you have to compensate for.

Nước Chấm | Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
After you’ve whipped up a big batch, it’ll last in a sealed container in your fridge for about 3 months. It’ll probably be fine a bit longer but you may lose some of the freshness that the lime juice initially gave.

And whether you add ginger, additional herbs or just use the basic version, your palates will thank you for it!

Ăn Ngon!

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Basic Nước Chấm

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced chilies, more or less based on preference
1⁄3 – ½ cup fresh lime juice
1 cup nước mắm (fish sauce)

Place the sugar into a large bowl and slowly pour in the boiling water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and allow to cool completely to room temperature. Add in garlic, chilies, 1⁄3 cup lime juice and nước mắm. Taste and add the rest of the lime juice if needed — this will vary depending on the type/brand of fish sauce that you use.

The nước chấm can be served as is or stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Fun Fact: I store my stash of nước chấm in old wine bottles that have screw caps on them. So double check next time you’re rummaging around my fridge for a glass of vino. ❤

 

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Seafood · Vietnamese

Bún Tôm Nướng Sả – Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp over Vermicelli Noodles

Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp
If you follow me on Instagram then you’ve more than once (okaayyy….more like a thousand times!) heard me rant that basic, everyday Vietnamese dishes aren’t really difficult and are often times quick to cook — but it’s the “mise” that will get you.

We love our condiments and dipping sauces and every dish has its own specific ones to compliment them. Tons of different textures? A MUST! Garnishes? We’re OBSESSED! And I’m not referring to the last minute little sprig of parsley you throw on once you’re done plating. I’m talking about pickled veggies, crispy fried shallots, all kinds of fresh veggies, scallion and chili oils, roasted nuts, savory caramel sauces, and tons–and I mean TONS- of fresh herbs!

We take it to a whole new level!

Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp

Which brings me back to my initial statement that the actual “cooking” part of the dish can be about 5 minutes whereas the prep and mise en place could add an additional hour!

Mixing sauces, chopping, mincing, dicing, MORE CHOPPING, roasting–and my least favorite as a kid, washing all the herbs. I know it sounds ridiculous but I really hated being on herb washing duty.

Maybe because we had so much of them all of the time?

Maybe because Mom wanted each leaf perfectly plucked from the stems?

Or maybe because I had to meticulously blot them each dry with a paper towel because wet herbs “watered” things down?

Had I even known that a salad spinner existed, I would have gladly used whatever little money I had at age 8 to buy one. It would have saved me from all the trauma—but I digress……

Vietnamese Mise en Place

I don’t mean to frighten Vietnamese cuisine novices from giving my peeps’ food a try—more of just a heads up. And once you start cooking Vietnamese more regularly, there are a few shortcuts such as:

  • Keep a large jar of basic Nước Chấm (dipping sauce) in your fridge. Just leave out the Sambal and doctor it up to best compliment that particular dish you’re fixing up – ie. fresh chilies instead of Sambal, fresh finely minced ginger, etc.
  • Đồ Chua are the pickled carrots and daikon you’ll find in tons of noodle dishes and bánh mì. My recipe below is a quick method using just carrots as I didn’t have any daikon on hand but if you make a large batch, jarred Đồ Chua can last in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks.
  • Lots of Asian grocery stores these days carry sả bằm (finely minced lemongrass) in their freezer section–often in little plastic tubs or bags. This is perfect for those folks who don’t use lemongrass often or just don’t want to hassle with all the mincing—though a food processor can also address the latter issue.

And of course, if you’ve got some good knife skills, then you’ve just cut the challenge in half (yea, I went there). Since so much prep is about dicing, mincing and slicing—it’ll be a breeze for you.

Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp

Bún Tôm Nướng Sả is a relatively low fuss dish I make quite often when I get a hankering for a big old bowl of Vietnamese goodness. I marinate a bunch of shrimp with lots of minced lemongrass (yup, I keep a tub in my freezer!), throw them on the grill (or grill pan or in this case, my cast iron skillet) and then nestle them on top of a mound of cool vermicelli noodles along with a hefty amount of veggies/herbs, Đồ Chua, Hành Mơ (scallion oil) and crunchy peanuts.

Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp
The whole thing then gets doused with a generous amount of nước chấm and fresh chilies for an added kicked. The bowl is filled with tons of different textures and crunch, light yet savory with a tremendous amount of freshness from the veggies/herbs and acidity from the nước chấm. If I had some leftover homemade egg rolls in the freezer, I would fry them up and add them to the bowl too! NGUYEN-ing!!!!!

Seriously, my mouth is watering just thinking of it.

And you betcha’ those are my Yoda lightsabre chopsticks below. Because when it comes to mise, Master Yoda would say “Patience you must have my young padawan!”

Yup…anyway to infuse some Jedi lessons…..

Grilled Lemongrass Shrimp
This would be just as tasty if you used thinly sliced chicken instead of the shrimp–or a combo of both! It’s your world, get a little crazy!

As for the prep time these days, I kind of like doing it now. Maybe it’s nostalgic, maybe 30+ years later I’ve become a little more patient….. But oddly enough, i find it rather relaxing—especially with some good music in the background and a glass of vino within arms reach. Because yes, vino should always be involved.

Ăn Ngon!

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Bún Tôm Nướng Sả – Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass
Shrimp over Vermicelli Noodles

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound shrimped, peeled and deveined
quality Vietnamese fish sauce, divided
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pinches black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 heaping tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
1 cup rice wine vinegar
sugar, divided
1 cup shredded carrots
¼ cup of canola oil
½ cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons hot water
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons Sambal chili paste, more or less to taste
cooking spray
2 cups chopped lettuce
1 package vermicelli noodles, prepared according to package directions
1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
¼ roughly chopped roasted peanuts
fresh chilies

In a large bowl, mix the shrimp, 2-3 dashes fish sauce, red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic powder and lemongrass. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In a small bowl or shallow plate, whisk the rice wine vinegar and 2-3 pinches sugar together. Add the carrots and allow to “quick pickle” in the fridge.

Prepare the hành mơ (scallion oil). In a sauté pan, slowly heat the canola oil. Add the chopped scallions. Cook the scallions on very low heat until they are wilted but still bright green. Approximately 2-3 minutes. Pull from heat and set aside.

Prepare the nước chấm (dipping sauce). In a small bowl or jar, mix ¼ cup sugar with the hot water until the sugar starts to dissolve. Stir in ¼ cup fish sauce, lime juice and Sambal chili paste. Set aside.

Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator 5 minutes before cooking to take the chill off. Heat your grill pan/cast iron to medium-high and lightly cover with cooking spray (or prepare outdoor grill). Grill the shrimp for approximately 1-2 minutes on each side until it’s opaque and turns pink. Remove to a large plate.

Divide the lettuce and noodles between four bowls. Add the pickled carrots, cucumbers, mint leaves, and cilantro. Top the bowls with the grilled shrimp and generously brush them with the hành mơ. Sprinkle the bowls with the crushed peanuts and serve with nước chấm and fresh chilies.

Poultry · Vietnamese

Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm for Tết – {Vietnamese Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}

Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm {Vietnamese-Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}

Well gang…in true Nam form, I’ve waited to the last minute to finish scrubbing down my house. And I need to get my act together because tomorrow is the beginning of Tết – the Lunar New Year!

Will I ever learn??

Doubt it.….

Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm {Vietnamese-Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}
But hey — I get points for having the majority of mi casa scrubbed down, lì xì (lucky money in red envelopes) all ready, ancestral altar is up and Bella got a bath. It’ll be a mad rush over the next few hours but it’s Tết and it needs to be done to optimize my luck for the year. I don’t like to gamble with bad ju-ju…especially since the Year of the Sheep (or Ram) is predicted to be a good one for me.

THANK BUDDHA!

Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm {Vietnamese-Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}
It’s going to be a crazy time with the family and I’ll be headed up to Orange County in a day to begin the shenanigans with them. Lots of food, lots of booze, loud talking (we’re not arguing–we just speak HELLA loud), lots of kids, lots of games and if all goes well, a lot of luck and prosperity for my o’hana.

Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm {Vietnamese-Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}
To celebrate Tết, I wanted to share my Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm which is sticky rice served with Vietnamese style fried chicken (aka…marinaded in fish sauce). It’s not a traditional Tết dish but it’s so darn good! Fried chicken swathed in a sticky, sweet, salty and spicy sauce –everything that speaks to the Vietnamese palette. Couple it with sticky glutinous rice and it’s HEAVEN!

So to you my dear friends, Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!! Wishing you all an extremely fulfilling, prosperous, joy filled, healthy and delicious Year of the Sheep!!!

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Xôi Gà Chiên Nước Mắm {Vietnamese-Style Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice}
Serves 5-6

Ingredients:

½ cup fish sauce (I use Việt Hương Three Crabs or Red Boat)
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup warm water
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon minced ginger
3 – 4 Thai chilies, minced (more if you prefer)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon black pepper
2½ – 3 pounds chicken, bone-in and skin-on (I prefer drumsticks and thighs)
2 cups sweet glutinous rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
peanut oil (you can substitute with vegetable oil if need be)
1 cup rice flour
½ cup all purpose flour
garnish: toasted sesame seeds, minced chilies, chopped scallions and chopped cilantro

In a bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, sugar, water, shallots, garlic, ginger, chilies and black pepper. Pour the marinade into large gallon Ziploc bags- you may need more than one depending on the size of the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken inside the Ziploc bags. Massage the chicken in the marinade and try to get most of the air out of the bag before sealing it. Put the bag(s) of chicken in a large bowl in case it leaks and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

While the chicken marinates, prepare the sticky rice. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Fill a large bowl with cool water, add the rice and soak it for about 2-3 hours. Drain the water and place the soaked rice in a rice cooker. Fill the cook with about 2/3 inch of water. Stir in the salt and cook according to the settings of your rice cooker. Alternatively, you can use a bamboo steamer and follow my directions posted here

An hour before you start cooking the chicken, pull it from the refrigerator to take the chill off of it. Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and set aside. Fill a large, heavy bottom pot with about 2-3 inches of the oil. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F.

Take the chicken and use paper towels to blot off the excess moisture. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour and all-purpose flour.

After the oil comes to temperature take a few pieces of chicken at a time and roll it into the flour mixture. Shake off any excess flour and carefully place the pieces into the oil –being careful to not overcrowd the pot. Depending on the size of the chicken, allow the pieces to fry for 10-20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Once done, allow the chicken to drain on a wire rack. Continue dredging and frying until all the chicken has been cooked.

While the chicken is frying, cook the marinade over medium-low heat until it reduces by half. Toss the fried chicken into the reduced marinade. Plate with a portion of sticky rice and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, minced chilies, chopped scallions and chopped cilantro. Serve warm.

 

Appetizers/Small Plates · Pork · Salads

(Isaan) Pork Larb Gai – Thai Minced Pork Salad

Pork Larb Gai

Larb (also often spelled as laap or laab) has been one of my favorite Thai dishes for a long time. It essentially translates to “minced meat salad” and can be made from a variety of different proteins – pork, beef, chicken, fish, duck, etc.

The word larb means “to chop up” in Thai. That’s right folks–authentic larb aficionados use a cleaver to chop/mince their proteins until they reach the perfect consistency. But truthfully, I’m a tad lazy and use pre-ground pork/chicken/turkey.

Andy Ricker, chef and author of Pok Pok does a beautiful job narrating his adventures of Thai cuisine and does an infinitely superior job of explaining the nuances of larb than I ever could. In a nutshell, there are two different schools of larb — the Northern Thai version and Northeastern Thai (Isaan) version. I gravitate towards the Isaan style that is heavily laden with citrus and toasted rice powder. The Northern style also uses various proteins and herbs but often includes pork/beef blood.

Pork Larb

I’m obsessed with Isaan-style larb because it’s truly a flavor explosion (I’m so cheesy). It’s incredibly savory with the garlic, shallots, fish sauce……bright and aromatic from the tons of citrus & fresh herbs…..and rather “earthy” from the toasted rice powder. Whether you eat it with sticky rice or as lettuce wraps, larb has multiple layers of texture, especially when you take intermittent bites of fresh cucumber slices, cabbage or fresh chiles.

My version isn’t totally authentic but it definitely is my homage to the original and can be whipped up in about 20 minutes. Not bad at all when you need a quick bite and its lightness is perfect for a warm summer meal.

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(Isaan) Pork Larb Gai – Thai Minced Pork Salad

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon warm water
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 tablespoon minced Thai chiles, divided
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 pound ground pork
2 scallions, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon toasted rice powder*
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly torn
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly torn
accoutrements: extra fresh herbs, lime wedges, cabbage, lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, steamed rice

In a bowl, create the sauce by whisking together the sugar and warm water until dissolved. Add in 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce and 1/2 teaspoon minced chiles (more to taste). Set the sauce aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon minced chiles (more to taste), red chili flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium-high and add in the pork.

Using a wooden spoon, stir the pork around the wok/skillet while breaking it apart to a crumbled consistency. Cook the pork until it is no longer pink, approximately 3-4 minutes. Stir in the remaining fish sauce and scallions.

Remove the wok/skillet from the heat. Toss in the rice powder, remaining lime juice, red onions, mint, cilantro, and basil. Stir in a few spoonfuls of the sauce to taste. Plate the larb with extra fresh herbs, whole chiles, lime wedges, sliced cucumbers, lettuce and cabbage. Serve with either steamed rice or whole lettuce leaves for wraps. The remaining sauce can be served alongside as a dipping sauce.

*If you cannot find pre-ground toasted rice powder, you can easily make your own. Toast uncooked jasmine rice in a skillet over low heat until golden brown. Once cooled, transfer the toasted rice into a spice grinder and grind until you get a fine powder.