Sunday, November 17, 2013

Viet Staple: Nuoc Mam (Dipping Sauce)

Fish sauce (nuoc mam) is to Vietnamese people like ketchup is to Americans. It's our condiment of choice. Really, it's not even a condiment, it is a main ingredient!

While the bottle of fish sauce usually sits in a kitchen cabinet, what usually sits in the fridge? A diluted version that is sweet, spicy, salty, and sour. Some people call it "nuoc mam cham" but in my household growing up, we just call it "nuoc mam" -- I guess it's because we knew we wanted the diluted sauce depending on what we were eating, e.g. banh xeo, banh cuon.

My mom's fridge always has two jars of prepared fish sauce at the ready. I mean, we use the stuff A LOT. And when you're making it, it's just easier to make a huge batch since you don't want your house smelling like cooked fish sauce all the time.

So what do you usually this sauce for? Most Viet folks already know, but in case you don't, here are the normal uses:

Broken rice plate (com tam bi). This plate is from Vietnam and the nuoc mam is in the little plastic baggies. 

Banh cuon (rice rolls)!

Banh xeos also need a dipping sauce! Especially this jumbo one.

We also use it for vermicelli bowls and dips for spring rolls and eggrolls.

Every family has their recipe for the ubiquitous dipping sauce but I'm obviously partial to my mom's recipe. I think it's a good balance of salty, sweet and tangy. It's also a "cooked" version.

When you are making this, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated because it is PUNGENT! You've been warned.

Nuoc mam "cham"

1 cup fish sauce (I use the Squid brand to make this sauce)
2 cups water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 lime (cut into suprêmes - basically the meat of the lime)
5-10 garlic cloves minced (add or take away depending on your affinity to garlic)
2-5 thai bird chilis sliced(add or take away depending on how spicy you like it)


1. Place the fish sauce, water, sugar and vinegar into a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.

2. While the fish sauce is "cooking," put the lime segments, garlic and chilis into a mortar (if you have one). Use the pestle to smush it all up.

Lime before cutting it into supremes.


Lime supremes in... 

then tons of garlic...

Thai bird chilis from my garden. Make sure you wash your hands after handling these guys.

Everyone into the container...

I don't have a mortar and pestle, so I use a small bowl (in this case, my pyrex) and the end of a dowel to smush it. Fancy, I know.

3. Taste the sauce to see if the flavor profiles are to your liking. Add more water if you like it less salty, more sugar if you prefer a sweeter version, etc.
Note: I usually end up using 2 1/2 cups of water and 1-2 tablespoons extra of sugar.

4. Add the mixed lime/garlic/chili mixture to the fish sauce pot. Let it sit for 5 minutes over a low heat to mellow out the garlic flavor.

5. Taste the mixture again and adjust to your liking. 

6. Allow the sauce to cool before you put it up in the fridge. I put mine in a Lock-N-Lock! You don't want this stuff spilling/leaking in your fridge. It keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

Great amber color and tons of garlic, chilis and lime!

When you're ready to serve the sauce, just add a dollop of chili garlic sauce and you're ready to go!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dixie Cup Virgins!

If there's an excuse for me to go to Houston for the weekend, you know I'm all about it. If there's a homebrew competition AND a friend's bachelorette party in Houston the same exact weekend, well Micah and I are definitely there (Micah wasn't allowed to the bachelorette party though, even though he would wear a cop costume for free.).

Really, the only other homebrew competition we've ever been to is Alamo City Cerveza Fest in SA and that's because we were part of the Bexar Brewers when we were there. Micah doesn't actually enter homebrew competitions very often. If he enters, he usually only submits a couple of beers.

Since we hadn't been to the Dixie Cup, we thought we'd check out all the crazy shenanigans. The Houston homebrew club, The Foam Rangers, have been holding Dixie Cup for 30 years. Since this year was XXX, there were a lot of sexy things going on! Sexy costumes, sexy food and sexy beer.

We decided to get into Houston on Friday night to attend the event's potluck dinner as well as the Fred Dinner (beer/food tasting). We had never been to Dixie Cup before but everyone told us that Friday night is the night to go!

What can you expect at homebrew competitions? Lots of beer. They had a nice keg setup in the hospitality room with various craft beers as well as homebrew concoctions.

After the potluck dinner, the Fred Tasting got underway.

 You don't think it's a lot, but it ends being tons of beer!

 Pam kicking off the first round!

Truffle deviled eggs paired with Abbey Monk Wit out of New Mexico! Most of us at the table had never had this beer before and it was actually pretty good, especially with the egg!

Mangoes with lime and garam masala with Southern Star's Walloon Grisette. Interesting combo of spices but the garam masala worked! I think I might actually steal this. The beer is a saison farmhouse style beer. The clove notes in the beer paired nicely with the spices in the mango.

 Chicken wings tossed in spanish paprika and pepper sauce with Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. I love wangs, but this was probably my least favorite dish of the night. The spices weren't that great and the chicken was a little undercooked for my liking. The beer is a hop bomb so it goes well with spicy foods.

Fresh figs roasted in honey and butter served with goat cheese and arugala with Prairie 'Merica. Sorry for the shitty pictures, not sure what happened there. Figs and cheese, you can't go wrong with that.

You can, however, go wrong with the beer we had with it. Ours tasted like cat pee... really. It was funky in the nose and funky in the taste and it wasn't a good funky either. Micah said he's purchased other Prairie Artistan Ales several times recently and haven't had any problems with it.

Beef heart jerky with Schlenkerla Rauchbier! I've eaten beef heart before but not in jerky form. I thought the heart-shaped cheese was a nice touch.

 Yes, I'm enjoying my jerky as well as Micah's portion since he doesn't eat red meat. lame-o.

Kerry gnawing on the jerky.

I'm not a huge fan of smoke beers but the smokiness did pair nicely with the smokiness of the jerky. Micah loves smoked beers!

Sichuan peppercorn peanuts w/ Himalayn pink salt with Independence Bootlegger Brown Ale.
The nuts were perfect! I loved the spice and ease of the dish. We're not huge fans of Independence but if I had to pick one of their beers, I would pick the brown. Mellow and easy to drink.

Frosted cupcakes with cherries, topped with pop rocks with Wasatch Polygamy Porter. I mean, who doesn't like chocolate food with porters? You can't have just one bite or one sip!

 Micah obviously wanted all of the balls.

Last dish was a doozy. Hop and black malt powder coated dark chocolate truffles with Southern Star Buried Hatchet Imperial Stout. Truffles should never be coated in hop powder. It's offensive. The coating left a bitter residual coating in your mouth and every time you thought it was gone, you'd lick you lips and there was still some there. Had to drink a lot of beer afterwards to get the taste out. On the bright side, the imperial stout is always a winner.

Before the night ended, there was some of this! Making it rain pop rocks!

 John Palmer, beer writer and consultant, was also bombed! We actually met John back in SA during a ACCF that he spoke at a few years ago. Great fellow!

Stripper pinata, of course.

On Saturday morning, we got up and went back to the Dixie Cup hotel and sat in on Palmer's water presentation. He has a new book out titled "Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers." 
I was actually going to buy the book for Micah for Christmas but he already had it on pre-order from Amazon! I can't get him anything!!

After Palmer's presentation, the brewer of Alaskan Brewing was there to talk about how they got started and gave us samples of all their beers. 

Their winter ale is made with spruce tips instead of hops. It does the same duty but with a much more mild flavor. I actually really enjoy this beer!

While Micah didn't win any awards at Dixie, we both had a great time!

At least our homebrew club, Austin Zealots, won the Lone Star Circuit this year!