Think that Vietnamese dipping sauce is all about nuoc cham, the ubiquitous lime, sugar, and fish sauce ditty that shows up at Vietnamese restaurants? Think again. The Vietnamese table has tons of dipping sauces to add zip and finish the flavors of food.
In fact, this is on of the most common dipping sauces in the Vietnamese repertoire. Every time I make this easy condiment, I am amazed at how good it is, especially when paired with such simple dishes as grilled chicken, fish, squid, shrimp, or summer squash. Shaking beef (thit bo luc lac) is served with this sauce, and so is poached chicken (ga luoc, see the Hainan chicken and rice for guidance) and crab in beer broth (cua hap bia). Depending on how you tilt its balance, the sauce may hit your palate with pungency, saltiness, tartness, and/or heat. It lifts and brightens flavors instantaneously.
Salt, Pepper, and Lime Dipping Sauce
Muối Tiêu Chanh
Kosher salt is the best type to use for this recipe. It is coarse, less assertive than regular table salt, and a little sweet. Some versions use black pepper but I find that white pepper lends a wonderful pungent note. Assembling this sauce is fun, fast, and up to each individual. As the cook, all you have to do is set out individual dishes filled with the ingredients. If you don't have limes around, try a regular lemon or Meyer lemon.
Kosher or other coarse salt
Thinly sliced Thai or serrano chiles
1. Place each of the ingredients in a separate shallow dish, put the dishes on the table, and provide diners with individual dipping sauce dishes. Then, tell them how to go about assembling the sauce: First, put some salt and white pepper into the dish (2 parts salt to 1 part pepper is a good balance). Next, add a squeeze of lime. Finally, if heat is desired, use chopsticks to muddle some chile slices in the mixture to release their oils. That’s it. Diners should dip each bite of food into the sauce right before eating. They can make flavor adjustments and extra sauce as the meal progresses.
2. For a more elegant — and perhaps easier — assembly, set up a dipping sauce dish with mounds of salt and white pepper for each diner, and then let them add their own lime juice and chile.