I’ve heard nam pla prik (also sometimes called prik nam pla) referred to as the “salt and pepper” of Thai food. Only instead of salt, it’s fermented fish, and instead of black peppercorns, it’s extra spicy Thai bird’s eye chiles. For garlic-lovers like myself, some slices of raw garlic are added to the mix. And a little sugar helps balance the fish sauce (although it can be safely left out, too). Something so simple really shouldn’t be as addictive as the resulting sauce is. The key is, of course, the main ingredient – fish sauce (the “nam pla” in nam pla prik). I know, I know, it sounds weird and smells weirder, but I’ve come to love this pungent sauce made from fermented, salted fish that’s crucially important to Thai cuisine (and other Southeast Asian cuisines as well). Like salt, it brings out the flavor of whatever it’s added to, but it also adds complex umami (savory) notes. The bird’s eye chiles (which can be replaced with jalapenos for a milder version) give the sauce a kick – and (like all hot peppers) have great health benefits, including the ability to speed up your metabolism and high levels of vitamin C. Along with being a natural pairing to Thai dishes, nam pla prik is amazing over rice (or quinoa), eggs, or even just fresh vegetables.
Nam Pla Prik (adapted from I Love Thai Cooking)
Yield: 1/4 cup
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 bird’s eye chiles, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)*
*Optional, but I find it helps balance the fish sauce. Ideally, use palm sugar, but brown sugar is a good substitute, and regular granulated sugar will also work.
In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup fish sauce, 2 bird’s eye chiles, thinly sliced, 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, and 1/2 tsp sugar. Store in a jar or covered container in the refrigerator until ready to serve (it’s usable immediately, but try to wait at least a couple of hours for the flavors to meld); this sauce will keep good for weeks. Use to taste over rice, eggs, fresh vegetables, and Thai dishes.