Prik nam pla was on practically every restaurant table when I traveled in Thailand. The traditional Thai sauce is perfect for adding an extra boost of flavor to grilled meat or fish, or as a dipping sauce for Thai Fish Cakes, crispy spring rolls, or fresh summer rolls. It’s great spooned over a bowl of jasmine rice, too.
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Prik Nam Pla, also called Nam Prik Pla, perfectly illustrates the essential Thai cooking principle of balancing salty, sour, sweet, and spicy flavors. It has all of these wrapped up in one crazy delicious and versatile sauce.
“Prik” means chili pepper and “nam pla” means fish sauce. So Prik Nam Pla is fish sauce based and spiked with Thai chilis—salty and spicy. Lime juice adds the sour element and sugar (usually palm sugar in Thailand, but you can substitute brown sugar) brings the sweet.
What ingredients do you need to make prik nam pla?
- Fish sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Lime juice
- Palm sugar or brown sugar
- Thai chilies
- Cucumber (optional)
- Peanuts (optional)
- Cilantro (optional)
How do you make it?
Making prik nam pla could not be easier. Just put all of the ingredients (besides the optional cucumber, peanuts, and cilantro) in a blender or food processor and process until the solids are minced and the sauce is well combined.
Garnish the sauce with cucumbers, more sliced chilies, crushed roasted peanuts, and cilantro.
What to serve prik nam pla with
Nam prik pla is a versatile dipping sauce. I serve it with everything from crispy fried spring rolls to Thai Fish Cakes or Tod Mun Pla.
We put this spicy Thai sauce on grilled beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and other seafood, too. Sometimes we just spoon it over steamed jasmine rice.
What is fish sauce?
Fish sauce is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese. Cooks use it to season dishes during cooking, adding both saltiness and umami. It also serves as a condiment at the table.
How is fish sauce made?
Fish sauce is made by fermenting fatty fish like anchovies or mackerel, or sometimes shrimp or other shellfish. Fermentation can take anywhere from two months to two years.
To make it, producers pack the fish in salt and leave it to break down. As it does, natural organisms begin to break down the fish and fermentation begins.
The more time the fish sauce is left to ferment, the less it tastes like fish. Long-fermented fish sauce provides deep umami flavor. The flavor is rich, almost nutty, and complex.
What is the best brand of fish sauce to buy?
When buying fish sauce, you’ll find that there are a million options. Some are fishier, some more pungent, and others sweeter. Which one you prefer depends largely on how you’re using it.
A more pungent sauce might be best for seasoning during cooking. You might prefer a sweeter version as a condiment at the table.
As for brands, there are many of them hailing from Thailand, Vietnam, and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Red Boat is a favorite brand among chefs, who love it for its depth and complex flavor. Red Boat is more expensive than other brands, running $14 for a 17-ounce bottle on Amazon. But if you have a Trader Joe’s near you, I have seen it there for less.
For a less expensive and widely available fish sauce, I like the Three Crabs brand. It has good, clean flavor and plenty of depth. Target sells it for around $7 for a 24-ounce bottle. You’ll also find it at most Asian grocery stores in a similar price range.