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The best Nuoc Cham is made from the best ingredients. Vietnamese fish sauce from the Delta region produces the best quality sauces of all the countries that are in production. If using a vinegar based sauce then use a quality Rice Wine Vinegar or a Sugar Palm  Wine Vinegar if available. There is a commentary on Fish Sauce at the end of this recipe.




Ingredients:


There is a true vegetarian option for this sauce. Using a Vegetarian Fish Sauce makes an almost identical flavoured product of high satisfaction. The Vegetarian Fish sauce is available commercially or it can be made with your own ingredients: Vegetarian Fish Sauce
The process of creating the Table Top Dressing or Dip is identical.


Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1/2 julienned carrot
Method:
  1. Mince your 2 cloves of garlic and chop your 1/2 carrot. Grind the chillie into a paste or slice into thin slices.
  2. Combine with the fish sauce , sugar, water and lime juice.
  3. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrot.



If the limes are not available then the use of vinegar is a good replacement.
The Vinegar based recipe:

Ingredients: (Vinegar based recipe)
  • 240 ml (1 cup) water
  • 60 ml (4 Tbsp) rice vinegar, palm wine vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • 60 ml (4 Tbsp) sugar
  • 75 ml (5Tbsp) fish sauce
  • 15 ml (1 Tbsp) garlic, finely chopped
  • 2  small fresh chili peppers
  • 1/2 julienned carrot
Method: (Vinegar based recipe)
  1. Boil water with vinegar and sugar; allow it to cool.
  2. Combine garlic, peppers, and add mixture.
  3. Stir in the fish sauce. Add the julienned carrot

Vietnamese Fish sauce is the premier product of this genre. It has certainly been my experience. Thai fish sauces are extremely variable and hard to find the good brands although they are around.

The process of making fish sauce is complex and generally starts with the fresh catch of small schooling fish such as anchovies. Larger fish do make great sauce but the value of  the meat is greater than the price consumers are willing to pay for the derived sauce.

The very fresh, rinsed fish are placed into a stone jar on a bed of salt and then more salt added. The layers of fish and salt are built up to fill the jars. The proportion of salt to fish is 2 to 3 parts fish to 1 part salt. The jar is covered but not sealed and left in a sunny aspect to ferment and extract the juices from the fish carcasses. This process can take several months up to one year.  Some manufacturers take the liquid from a bottom spigot of the jar and recycle it to the top during this process.

After this fermentation the liquid is drawn off through the spigot or by siphoning. It is then clarified by filtration and allowed to sit in large jars for a few weeks to air. This allows dissipation of the strong fish aroma. This sauce is then the premiere product. Salted water can then be added to the remaining fish mass and further fermentation carried out. The secondary and even tertiary fermentations are carried out for approximately 3 months each treatment. The sauce produced is of a successively lower quality than the premier product but manufacturers mix the lower grades with the premier grades to produce a sauce of high acceptable standard. There are artificial digestion procedures in effect but these aren't considered as good.

The top quality Vietnamese Fish sauce generally has the word "Nhi" on the label. Top brands of Thai fish sauce are difficult to ascertain by quality labels so generally are selected on brand alone:  Tra Chang and Golden Boy would be the top two acknowledged Thai brands.