Shrimp paste là gì, vietnamese fermented shrimp sauce (mam tom)

A stir-fry of water spinach, pork belly and garlic, all tossed with the pungent Vietnamese shrimp paste called mắm tôm. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.

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Fish sauce has crossed over from Vietnamese cuisine to use in all kinds of trang chủ và restaurant cooking, but it’s hardly the only fermented sea beast potion that Viet cooks love. When you’re ready khổng lồ take the next step inlớn Southeast Asian umangươi, get yourself a jar of fermented shrimp paste, or mam tom.

My favorite, the Koon Chun brvà, is a finely ground paste that’s colored sort of gray-brown-purple; the smell straight out of the jar is akin khổng lồ the really dank smell of a French Quarter dumpster during Mardi Gras. I’m not alone in this: In a piece for Taste on the Thai variety of shrimp paste, writer Mari Uyehara compared it with “a bag of trash on a hot August night.” These are qualities you are looking for! Its pushier character means that it’s a sauce that’s best lớn take in small doses. For that reason, you’ll most often find shrimp paste in a supporting role, cheering on the big, meaty flavors of bun bo Hue, or stir fry of chopped pork, lemongrass và chiles.

Unlượt thích its solidly dehydrated counterparts in Đất nước xinh đẹp Thái Lan and the Philippines, mam tom has more of a toothpaste texture. All the peoples of Southeast Asia have their own version — this North Vietnamese version is more liquidy và fine than the rest, though the processes are generally the same. Often, the kết thúc results depover on whatever the typical local shrimp might be, because they vary in kích thước and flavor.

The beauty of fermented shrimp paste is in how the flavor of shrimp has been, like a glob of molten steel, folded over & over onkhổng lồ itself to create a potent over product. In coastal Vietnam, the process of making this paste utilizes this same method of repetitive sầu action: a mass of shrimp are dried, ground up, pickled, then dried again, each step concentrating and sharpening the flavor. Northern Vietnamese favor a more finely ground paste made from big shrimps, while Central Vietnamese make a rougher, redder paste from the tiny, krill-like shrimp found there.


Made with fermented shrimp & salternative text, mam tom is a powerfully pungent sauce used to add umami to lớn all sorts of traditional Vietnamese dishes.

For years, Vietnamese American cookbook author và expert Andrea Nguyen has maintained that Americans need lớn wise up lớn the wonders of fermented shrimp paste. For consistency, Nguyen favors the Lee Kum Kee và Koon Chun brands, both of which Gọi the condiment “finely ground shrimp sauce.” From an early age, Nguyen knew that mastering fermented shrimp paste had everything to bởi with making it work in tandem with other svào flavors.

“I grew up with a mom who was like, if we had mam tom for anything, she would say in Vietnamese ... ‘Cook it, cook it!’” Nguyen told me. “The way she would ‘cook it’ would be lớn have something acidic, so lime juice.” At her house, the resulting dipping sauce, a concoction of the paste, lime juice, sugar, water and fish sauce, was often paired with the fresh và light flavors of phụ vương ca La Vong, or turmeric-marinated fish.

But you don’t always have sầu khổng lồ stiông chồng with limes: Nguyen’s spicy-sweet-acidic recipe for umamày ketchup utilizes the same principles but with tomato & rice vinegar. If you want to lớn play around with dipping sauce recipes, you can do lượt thích a true Vietnamese grandma does & add crushed canned pineapple, which pairs really well with grilled beef. You just need something tart to lớn slice through the thiông chồng fog of fermented shrimp flavor. “It’s that sense of gravitas,” Nguyen said. “Shrimp paste lends that little bit of oomph lớn a dish.”

Made too much dipping sauce và not sure what to bởi with it? Diep Tran, owner of the recently closed Good Girl Dinette in Highl& Park, loves khổng lồ pair fermented shrimp paste with rau xanh muong, or water spinach. “That’s the stereotype people in Vietnam have sầu about Bac Ky (Northern Vietnamese), right? We love sầu rau xanh muong và mam tom. They’re so good together.” An easy way to lớn whip up that dish is to lớn blanch the greens & toss them with the aforementioned dipping sauce mixture. You could also vì chưng the same lớn roasted Brussels sprouts or broccoli, or — you heard it here first — drizzle a bit of the sauce over avocabởi vì toast.

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If finding more uses for shrimp paste has you stumped, consider how shrimp works as a flavoring agent. A handful of roasted shrimp shells, simmered briefly, makes a brilliant stochồng. Those same shells, ground into lớn a powder, deepen the flavor of guajillo broth or Thai curry paste. And think about how, when stir-fried whole, the saffron-colored sauce that seeps from a shrimp’s head coats your tongue with a butter-rich hit of savoriness. Try swapping in a dab of fermented shrimp paste in recipes where that ultimate shrimp flavor can play a supporting role.


Mam tom, the Vietnamese shrimp paste, makes a umami-rich sauce for this stir-fry of water spinach & pork. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.

Rau Muong with Mam Tom (Charred Water Spinach With Shrimp Paste, Pork Belly and Garlic)

The grassy notes of rau muong are accentuated by the earthiness of briny mam tom in this five-minute stir-fry from Diep Tran, chef & owner of the recently closed Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park. Mam tom definitely brings funk to lớn the fresh greens but doesn’t overpower them. The fat from pork belly mellows the mam tom, & the garlic, chile & lemon juice brighten the greens. Charring everything in a wickedly hot pan adds a smokiness that ties the dish together. The tangle of greens hooking bits of caramelized meat and toasted garlic weeps a savory jus. Scoop over steamed rice for an intensely satisfying bite.

15 minutes. Serves 2 as a solo dish or 4 as a side dish.


3 ounces skinless pork belly1 large bunch (1 ½ pounds) water spinach (rau củ muong)2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic1 red or green Tnhì bird’s eye chile, slit lengthwise1 ½ teaspoons fermented shrimp paste (mam tom)Pinch of granulated sugar (optional)1 lemon or lime wedge, for servingSteamed rice, for serving


Cut the pork belly inlớn 1/4-inch-thiông chồng slices, then cut each slice inlớn 1/2-inch-wide pieces.Pluchồng the leaves và tender thin stems from the water spinach in 3- to 4-inch lengths & put in a large bowl. You should have about 12 ounces. Disthẻ the fibrous thicker stems for another use. Add cold water to lớn the bowl khổng lồ cover the leaves và swish to remove any grit. Lift out the leaves, shaking off excess water & drain in a colander. Repeat if the greens still seem dirty.Heat a large, deep skillet or wok over high heat until smoking. Add the pork belly and immediately stir with chopsticks or a wooden spoon while shaking the pan until the fat is translucent và the meat golden brown, about 45 seconds. (You want khổng lồ keep the pork moving so it doesn’t burn while it chars.) Add the garlic & chile, & cook, stirring và shaking, until the garlic is golden brown at the edges, about 30 seconds.Add the shrimp paste and cook, stirring and mashing the paste into the pan, until it loses its raw aroma, about 15 seconds. Add the water spinach all at once. (If you aren’t using Tnhì shrimp paste, add the sugar.) Gently press & fold the greens inkhổng lồ the pan to wilt them evenly and lift the garlic off the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn. Keep stirring until the greens are all wilted but still bright in color and their juices have sầu released, 1 khổng lồ 2 minutes total.Using tongs, lift the solids out of the pan inlớn your serving dish. Taste the jus in the pan. If you want a more intense concentrated flavor, simmer it a little longer. Pour the jus over the greens. Squeeze the lemon juice all over, và serve sầu immediately over rice.

Make ahead: You can prep all of the ingredients up khổng lồ a day ahead, keeping them refrigerated in separate, airtight containers until ready lớn cook.

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