In Ho Chi Minh City, home cooks keep jars of chili-garlic sauce on hand for adding subtle heat and gentle garlic flavor to all manner of dishes. The flavor is more nuanced and less fiery-sharp than purchased chili-garlic sauces. The sauce—which we gladly spoon over rice and noodle dishes, as well as into sauces and over roast meats—will keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

To make, in a blender, combine 1 cup neutral oil, 12 Fresno chilies (stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped), 6 medium garlic cloves (smashed and peeled), 2 stalks lemon grass (trimmed to the lower 5 to 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, and roughly chopped), 2 small shallots (roughly chopped) and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Blend until finely minced, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a 10-inch skillet. Set over medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain gentle bubbling, until the solids are completely broken down and paste-like, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl or glass jar and cool completely.

Featured in Milk Street Magazine, May-June 2020. See here for more from this issue.

For more from our travels to Vietnam, read about Vietnamese Scallion Sauce, Vietnamese Shaking Beef and Lacquered Sweet and Savory Vietnamese Caramel Sauce.

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