Jeow Som Is Laos' Sour And Spicy Sauce You'll Want To Drizzle Over Steak

There's a Southeast Asian dipping sauce that, like so many dishes from that part of the world, is a sublime balance of fairly intense flavors. Jeow som is omnipresent in Laos and northeastern Thailand. It's a spicy, tangy, and sweet condiment that pairs well with everything from sticky rice to seafood, but we're here to tell you that it's magnificent with steak. Not only does traditional jeow som have a smoky essence, but it also contains fish sauce — a venerable and exquisite partner to beef. Dipping grilled pieces of tri-tip into a ramekin of freshly made jeow som will give you a perfect match.

There are two great reasons to make jeow som at home. The first, and most important, is that it's incredibly easy to do. All you really need is a mortar and pestle or food processor. The second is that doing so will give you the final say on the balance of your sauce's tangy, sweet, and spicy flavors. If you're already planning to fire up the grill to cook steak, scorching a few cloves of garlic and red chili peppers for jeow som will be the work of a moment.

Your new favorite dipping sauce

A traditional jeow som recipe goes something like this: char bird's eye chilies and garlic until dark. Place in a mortar and pestle and add cilantro stems, sugar, and salt. Mash or blend until you have a paste, then incorporate fish sauce and lime juice. The end. You can use whatever red chilies you like best in lieu of the Thai variety, or substitute cilantro leaves for the more robustly flavored stems, or introduce thinly sliced scallions or oyster sauce into your recipe. As a general rule, start with equal amounts of sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice — this is the easiest way to make those three ornery angels dance harmoniously on the head of the flavor pin — then adjust each to your preferred emphasis.

Jeow som is one member of a family of many jeow-named sauces. While all of them contain garlic and chilies, other versions feature mushrooms, beef bile, buffalo skin, crab, tomatoes, roasted eggplant, or sticky rice powder. Depending on how adventurous you are in the kitchen, we recommend beginning your Laotian dipping sauce journey with jeow som drizzled over a flash-cooked steak. That should provide all the inspiration you need to take further exploratory steps.