Steamed Fish with Tamarind Nuoc Cham

In this recipe, the punchy flavors of tamarind and Vietnamese nuoc cham provide the perfect counterpart to buttery soft steamed fish.

Nuoc Cham: the Vietnamese dipping sauce for Just about everything

Made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chilies, nuoc cham acts as the perfect sweet/salty/sour counterpart to many of Vietnam’s most famous dishes. It makes grilled meat pop, seafood sing, and even plain rice taste better than you can imagine. In this recipe, we add another sweet/sour ingredient to the mix: tamarind concentrate.

Tamarind concentrate and where to find it

Used commonly throughout Africa and Asia, tamarind pods have large seeds surrounded by deliciously sweet and sour pulp. Harvesting tamarind paste from a pod is time consuming, so that’s where store bought tamarind paste or concentrate comes in handy. You can find it at your local asian, Indian, or middle eastern market, or online. Typically, you’ll find it cheaper in a store.

Equipment for steaming fish

For this recipe, you will need either a steaming rack, double boiler, bamboo steamer, or a steaming donabe. Essentially you need something that will fit on top of a pot of simmering water that has a lid. If you don’t have one, a bamboo steamer serves as an economical way to get started. Just make sure to find one that will fit whatever pot you plan to use as a base. Check out this quick guide on how to use a bamboo steamer. In the picture below, I am using a donabe steamer, which is a Japanese pot used for all sorts of soups, stews, and shabu shabu. A donabe is an investment piece, but you can find this mushi nabe here if you are interested.

Steamed Fish with Tamarind Nuoc Cham

Recipe by Molly MossCourse: Main, Soups, seafoodDifficulty: Easy


Total time



In this recipe, the punchy flavors of tamarind and Vietnamese nuoc chom perfectly counters buttery soft steamed fish.


  • For the tamarind nuoc chom
  • ¼ cup hot water

  • 2 tbsp white sugar

  • 2 tbsp tamarind concentrate

  • 1/8 cup lime juice

  • 1.5 tbsp fish sauce

  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced

  • ¼-½ small thai chili, minced

  • For the steamed fish
  • 1 llb firm white fish, like cod, halibut, or black bass

  • Canola oil

  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

  • 1 scallion, sliced

  • Small handful of cilantro, rough chopped

  • Torn mint for garnish, optional


  • Place the white sugar, garlic, and thai chili in a small bowl and pour over ¼ cup hot water. Add the tamarind, lime juice, fish sauce, and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. It should taste intense.
  • Cut the fish into 3-4 filets and season with salt.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil large enough to fit your steamer rack or double boiler.
  • Line a steamer rack or double boiler with parchment or cabbage leaves. Place the fish on the cabbage leaves or parchment. If you have a bamboo steamer, you can use that as well. I have a steamer donabe and use that.
  • Bring the water to a boil and place the steamer with your fish on top of the pot. Cover and reduce the heat to low.
  • Steam until the fish flakes easily when poked with a fork, about 8 minutes.
  • In the last 2 minutes, heat about 2 tbsp of canola oil in a small saucepan until just below sizzling.
  • Remove the fish from the steamer and transfer to a plate.
  • Top each fish filet with the sliced ginger, scallions, and cilantro.
  • Pour the hot oil over the fish filets, which will gently cook the aromatics.
  • Pour the tamarind nuoc chom over the fish. You likely won’t need it all.
  • Garnish with mint and serve immediately.


  • There should be enough broth for about 3 cod filets, but you can certainly keep the same recipe for just two filets.
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