FISH SAUCE, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I can’t imagine a world without you in it. My heart hurts to think of Thanksgiving without roasted carrots nuoc cham. The biggest mistake about fish sauce is that it is “fishy”. And sure, it can smell fishy, hell, yes, it’s MADE OF FISH, but in the kitchen, it works more like salt, and it takes a deeper, tastier, and umami punch to whatever gets splashed.
And yet, what is this beautiful stinky liquid? How do you do the things you do? And how can you use it to its full potential?
This seasoning is thousands of years old. In ancient Rome they called it garum. Lovely nerd Harold McGee points out on On Food and Cooking that historian Pliny defined garum as “rotten liquor”, which sounds delicious, doesn’t it? McGee tells us that after perfume, garum was one of the most valuable liquids. I would say it still is!
Wait, what is fish sauce?
It is a fermented condiment typically made from anchovies that is a glorious umami glare in a bottle. While nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) and nam pla (Thai fish sauce) are among the most widely available types of fish sauce in the US. In the USA, it exists in slightly different styles throughout the world: ngan-pya-ye (Burmese), tuk trey (Cambodian), budu (Malaysian), patis (Filipino), colatura di alici (Italian), shottsuru (Japanese), aekjeot (Korean).
But how do you do it?
Simply put, fish (anchovies are the most widely used, but some brands contain small amounts of by-catches, such as squid and other small swimmers) are combined with salt and aged in barrels for six months to a year (or longer). ). The salt draws moisture and preserves the anchovies so they can ferment for long periods of time without spoiling, during which microbes grow in the fish, deepening the flavor of the sauce. The liquid is strained and dried in the sun, then aged for a further month in ceramic urns or plastic barrels before bottling.
What should I look for when I buy it?
The good has only two ingredients: fish and salt. Some brands add sugar for balance, which is not the end of the world, but anything else is suspect (for example, preservatives). Red Boat, our favorite Vietnamese fish sauce, has a deep flavor, not too salty.
And how do I keep it?
It holds well for several years, although it can darken and focus on flavor over time. If your kitchen gets hot, or if you don’t use fish sauce often, store it in the refrigerator.
Once I have it, how should I use it?
A little goes a long way: sprinkle a few drops anywhere you want some extra salty funk. Try it on …
Pasta sauces where you would use anchovies, like marinara
… or start with nuoc cham! This quick and powerful Vietnamese basic sauce pairs with any protein, salad or roasted vegetables. Whisk 2 tablespoons. fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons. fish sauce, 1⁄2 teaspoon. sugar and 1 tablespoon. water in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Mix 1 small garlic clove finely minced and 1 tablespoon. finely chopped coriander.