Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuong Ot Xa (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce)


Ok. Long hiatus, I know, but I am back. Easing back into things, I made a DELICIOUS chili sauce from Wandering Chopsticks. Ever since I had my first bowl of Phở I have been mesmerized by Vietnamese food. It is just so completely different from the cuisine of the rest of SE Asia. It’s kind of hard to describe, but the flavors are so yummy and mesh so well, like nothing else. I hope to cook more Vietnamese food, and a sauce is a nice, simple way to introduce yourself to a cuisine. This sauce is exceptionally simple. It’s so delicious that I will definitely make it again, yet with an uncomplicated ingredient list I will always have in my pantry.






To the surprise of most Lao people, I LOVE chilis and always ask for my food, “Phet Phet” (~ Hot Hot).  Even I was surprised by how many chilis went into this sauce (100) but that number will fluctuate each time it gets made because, obviously, the chilis will vary in size. A note of caution on the chilis: when opening the lid of the food processor, don’t have any noses or eyes (or other sensitive parts, do I really have to tell you?) too close. Those fumes will melt off some layer you didn’t even realize you had. My finger actually burned for a while after I fished out the last bit from the FP into the wok. I think the spot was already sensitive due to a slight injury received during a chopsticks bout…


The lemongrass takes the longest of the ingredients to cook, so it gets added first. If you don’t pay attention to it the lemongrass can burn. (More notes in my adaptation of the recipe)


As soon as you have the next ingredients prepped, add them to the wok. There’s no timing involved here yet, so take as much time as you wish. The lemongrass can always benefit from more time..


In the end, this is what my sauce ended up looking like. If you use the proper amount of 0il in the beginning then it *may* be a brighter color. It’s been about two days since I made this sauce and my house (not just my kitchen) still smells of this stuff. Great because it’s yummy!!

Now for the recipe: Tuong Ot Xa (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce) Adapted from Wandering Chopsticks recipe

Makes 2-4 Cups

1 1/2 cups fresh chili peppers of your choice (Remove the stems, if they are larger than ~2in. halve them)
For color, 1/2 cup of dried chili pods or 1/4 cup Sriracha chili hot sauce (I lucked out and found smoked chili powder accidentally. Delicious mistake!)
1-1.5 lemongrass stalks, finely minced (The lemongrass here is about 14 inches long and nearly 3/4 in. wide at its base. If yours is smaller, use 2)
6 cloves of garlic, minced (Get ‘em as big and fat as you can. You can add more if you want for more dragon breath)
4 shallots, or 1 small onion, minced
Salt to taste
1-2 tblsp sugar
1-2 tblsp white vinegar
2 to 4 tblsp fish sauce
~ 1 cup, or more vegetable oil, or a neutral-tasting oil. Olive and sesame oils would be too overpowering.

Note: This can be done with everything  prepared in advance and just thrown in, but you’ll have to add in time for things to cook. The way detailed here is simpler.

1.  Heat wok and 1/2 c oil on low

2.  Cut the lemongrass into 1-2 in. chunks and add to food processor. Get as fine as you can then add to the oil. This is intended to be a long slow cooking. You want it high enough to make noises when you put the lemongrass in, but low enough so you can focus on preparing your other ingredients.

3. Put the chilis into the FP next. Same as before, get it as fine as you can. My FP is older than I am and small, so my sauce is pretty chunky still. Don't smell too strongly or put your eyes near it. Best way to scoop the last bits stuck to the side is NOT your finger! Use anything else you can. This much capsaicin can even burn your skin..

4. FP the Garlic and Shallots/onion. Make a little space in the middle to ensure they get some wok contact. Add some oil if needed. Just to make sure they don’t stick to bad. Once those look like they’ve been cooked down a bit, it’s time to add our liquids.

5. Stir everything in your wok together well. In a small bowl mix the vinegar, fish sauce and sugar. Stir this into the wok and then add the chili powder/ground dry chilis and mix. Add the rest of the oil. Throughout the recipe, make sure to keep the sauce “moist” with oil. At no time should anything seem dry.

6. Bring the heat up a bit to let this simmer for AT LEAST 10 minutes. I let mine simmer for a bit longer because my lemongrass was still pretty rough and I didn’t add enough oil until right at the end.


There you have it! A great, easy chili sauce that people will LOVE. I’ve been putting it on everything when I cook as a base sauce, a dipping sauce, whatever you want it for. This stuff is powerful. I even needed water when I was testing the flavor!


  1. Nice job! So glad you liked it. I've got chilies in my fridge to make another batch but have to gear myself up for it because those chili fumes are a bit much!

  2. Thanks! When that stuff gets to cooking it's pretty hard to breath at times. I kept the kitchen door closed to keep the fumes from reaching other people in the house. Even with the door closed you could smell the chili sauce outside the kitchen for about a week!

  3. Mine doesn't look anything like yours :(

    But it TASTES phenomenal! ... lol it's still cooking, but I'm taste-testing anyway! So far, so good =]

    I'm not used to cooking spicy things, but my boyfriend is Korean, so he likes heat to his food ... I feel like this works for both of us!