Quick Nuoc Cham Sauce is the perfect sweet, sour, spicy, salty condiment. My recipe also includes options for a veganized version!
Today’s post may seem a bit random, given that we’re between Easter, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day. That’s because it is. I’ve had this post ready to go for the LONGEST time, but the timing never seemed right.
UNTIL NOW. We’ve just returned from a big hiking trip. We’re worn out. We need to shop and do laundry. Did I plan ahead for this situation to bring you my weekly recipe? Not so much. So, I decided to “embrace the strange” and run with the post that was ready-to-go. (It will seem much less weird next week, when I’ll be posting a vegan pho recipe for the Instant Pot. UPDATE: check it out! Instant Pot Vegetable Pho Noodle Soup)
What is nuoc cham sauce?
Nuoc cham is a condiment that is ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine. The ingredients sound revolting, but the result is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and umami.
There are tons of variations on nuoc cham dipping sauce. Most authentic versions will contain fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, Thai bird chilies, sugar, and water. Sometimes, though, I don’t have the time or energy to squeeze limes and dice chilies (although I do still mince up some garlic). So, my (admittedly non-authentic) version of nuoc cham substitutes rice vinegar for the lime juice and chili-garlic sauce for the Thai bird chilies. I often substitute Splenda for the traditional palm sugar.
How do I make nuoc cham sauce?
My Quick Nuoc Cham Sauce recipe is a simple matter of mincing garlic and putting it into a jar, along with the fish sauce, chili-garlic sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and some water. Give it a shake and you’re done.
I have a dedicated jar for my nuoc cham dipping sauce, with the proportions of the liquid ingredients on the side with a Sharpie so that I don’t even have to think about it. I keep the sauce in the refrigerator for up to a month.
What is nuoc cham used on?
We use liberal amounts of nuoc cham with pho. I have several pho recipes on Flipped-Out Food because, in my opinion, pho should be its own food group. 😛 For example, Slow-Cooker Rotisserie Chicken Pho, and Slow-Cooker Duck Pho. I’ll be adding a vegetable pho to this list very soon.
Bun bowls (Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls) are another perfect use for nuoc cham sauce. Check out my Bun Bo Xao (Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Noodle Bowls) and Meal-prep Meatball Vietnamese Noodle Bowls, for example.
Just about anything that’s a bit bland and can use a flavor boost is fair game for nuoc cham. It doesn’t have a strongly fishy flavor—just sweet, salty, sour, spicy, umami goodness. I’ve used it on unseasoned, cooked vegetables and salads, for example.
Can I make a vegan nuoc cham sauce?
Absolutely. Vegan nuoc cham sauce is even less authentic than my simplified version because it contains no fish sauce. But I’ve found that liquid aminos do a very good job of replicating the salty/umami flavor of fish sauce. I use a smaller ratio of liquid aminos to water because the aminos are quite strong in flavor. Also, be sure to use either beet or coconut sugar, since regular sugar is very likely not vegan. (You can also use USDA-certified organic sugar.) Everything else about the vegan version is the same. I completely fooled Phil with the veganized nuoc cham, so it’s definitely a keeper.
I also recommend the liquid aminos version of nuoc cham for people who just can’t wrap their brains around the idea of fish sauce. The liquid aminos give the sauce a robust taste that’s not unlike soy sauce—but, unlike soy sauce, this sauce is gluten-free.
It’s that simple! I hope you’ll agree that nuoc cham sauce is a fantastic flavor booster. Do be sure to check out my instant pot vegetable pho as well! Also, if you’re looking for recipe inspiration from the pantry, take a look at Easy Pantry Meals – Living Out of Your Pantry (and refrigerator and freezer)!
Quick Nuoc Cham Sauce
- 1 garlic clove - minced
- 2 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
- ⅓ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- 4 tbsp sugar
- ½ cup water
- Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar. Lid tightly and shake. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Substitutions for Vegan Nuoc Cham Sauce
- Instead of fish sauce, use 3 tbsp of liquid aminos (see "Related Products" below the recipe).
- Use beet sugar, coconut sugar, or USDA-certified organic sugar.