This is the first of a five part series on Northern and Northeastern Thai dishes. The other three will be “Moo Yang (Moo Yahng, Mu Yang or หมูย่าง), Nam Prik Ong น้ำพริกอ่อง, Nam Jim Jaew #2 (tamarind version) and one encompassing the two topics “How to make Thai sticky rice easily at home” and “How to make toasted rice power ข้าวคั่ว”.
This sauce is one of my favorites from Thailand. Everyone probably knows the “Thai Sweet Chili Sauce” or nam jim gai, literally translates as “dipping sauce for chicken”, but nam jim jaew (sort of rhymes with cow) is almost as common. If you get grilled chicken in Thailand you will get both of these sauces every time. There are actually two different kinds (maybe more?) of jaew that I used to get. This is one of those types. The second type has tamarind in it and that’s a different show.
I made this just yesterday to take to a buddy’s birthday party and I got several requests for the recipe. So here it is.
- 2 limes, one juiced, one extra in case you need more sour
- 1-2 tablespoons dried red pepper flakes
- cilantro, a handful, chopped as finely as you can
- Shallots, 1 “normal” sized bulb, sliced very thin then cut though a couple times.
- 5-6 tablespoons very fresh fish sauce (for this one, Tiparos brand or see my note on fish sauce at the end of this recipe)
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (or palm sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon toasted rice power ข้าวคั่ว (you can buy this or make it yourself recipe here)
I start by mixing the juice of one lime, 5 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in a bowl to let the sugar dissolve and then move on to prepping the cilantro and shallot. BTW, technique, a mandolin (“V”) slicer set on it thinnest setting is perfect for the shallots. After sliced thin, just run your knife through it a couple times and it’s good. With the cilantro, you want it chopped as fine as you can get it, but don’t make a paste out of it.
Once the sugar has dissolved taste the mixture. It should be sweet, salty and sour. If you haven’t had this sauce before, I don’t know how to guide you. If you have, adjust sugar, fish sauce and lime juice as you like it. Next, add the cilantro, shallots, black pepper and 1 or 2 tablespoons of red pepper flake (I use 2 and it’s still not that spicy). I also use regular old Italian style red pepper flakes but any coarse ground red pepper should work though I wouldn’t use cayenne, I think that would be way too hot.
For this amount, I would probably serve half at a time. Just before serving (half), stir in half the the toasted rice powder and mix thoroughly. Once the rice is in the clock is ticking. You have at least an hour, but at some point after that, the rice powder will get saturated and soggy and no longer good eats. Thus the serving it in portions and adding the rice at the last moment. Serve with sticky rice and any grilled meat like moo yang.
Fish Sauce น้ำปลา
OK, let’s talk fish sauce. First off brands. I use Tiparos pretty much exclusively. If you cook much Thai or Vietnamese food you will know there are many, many types of fish sauce out there. I have not tried them all. In Thailand, Tiparos brand is ubiquitous in use to an extent much greater than say Heinz Ketchup here in the States. I only remember ever seeing two other brands in people’s actual kitchens in Thailand–Squid brand and the one with the scales on the label (cannot remember the name). And I saw the Squid brand only once (and no, there is no squid in Squid brand fish sauce). I think if you are cooking with a fish sauce it doesn’t matter as much which brand you use. Once in pinch, I bought a bottle of Oyster Nampla fish sauce (and no, there are no oysters in Oyster brand fish sauce) and discovered it’s the worst fish sauce ever–but I still used it for cooking for a week or two until I bought some Tiparos.
But this recipe is using fish sauce raw. It’s the base flavor. I would not have used Oyster brand or any other “not-so-good” fish sauce in a raw fish sauce dish. The same would apply to “prik nam pla” (fish sauce with sliced mouse poop chilies). Raw fish sauce needs to be good quality fish sauce.
Different fish sauces also have different salinity. Squid brand is a good quality fish sauce, but is noticeably saltier than Tiparos. So if you were to make this with Squid brand, you would need to use less of it.
Lastly, on freshness. If you have an opened bottle of fish sauce in your cupboard/larder, get up right now and throw it away. Unless you just opened it yesterday, in which case, get up right now and put it in the refrigerator right away. Fish sauce stays in the refrigerator, got it? 🙂
Of course it won’t stay fresh in your refrigerator forever. It will easily keep 3-4 months, probably longer. You can tell the status of your fish sauce by holding it up to a light and looking through. It should be iced tea colored. Not Coke color or (oh, gawd no) coffee color. Make sure you check the bottle before buying them too–and check the expiration dates. All Thai food products will have made and expiration dates on them. Again, since this is a raw fish sauce dish, I recommend using a bottle opened less than a month or just go buy a fresh bottle before making it.