Fish sauce is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine. I always have it stocked and it’s not often I cook without it. If you don’t know what it is, you should get to know it. It has a unique flavor and adds layers of complexity to a dish. It’s in most Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Filipino cooking. It is used similar to salt but leaves a savorier flavor.
Refer to as nam pla in Thai, nam pa in Lao, and nuoc mam in Vietnamese. What is it? It is a liquid sace made from fish (typically anchovies) mixed with salt and fermented in covered jars under the sun for several months. The anchovies break down and liquid is extracted and filtered from what remains. Fish sauce has a pungent strong odor. Fish sauce fermented in a shorter time will have a strong fishy taste and smell. The longer the fermentation, the richer and cleaner the finish. Also, an indication of quality is the “press”. First press fish sauce means the liquid was bottled from the first drain. Second and third presses are done by adding water to what remains and left to ferment again for a few months before bottling.
To determine the quality, check the color and smell. First press will be lighter amber color similar to whiskey and clear with no sediments. Later presses will be darker in color and have a stronger fishy smell.
Not sure which one to try? Here is a quick review on three popular fish sauce: Megachef 30°N, Three Crabs, and Red Boat 40°N.
- Sugar and Fructose added
- Sweet finish
- Sweeter than most fish sauce
- Light, sweet aroma
- Good balance of savory and sweet, but salty
- Saltier than the other two brands
- Fructose added
- Commonly used in Vietnamese cooking
Red Boat 40°N
- Regarded as the primer, highest quality fish sauce
- Clean, sweet finish
- Not as fishy or salt compared to other fish sauce
- Light and simple
How to use fish sauce?
- Fish sauce can be used as seasoning similar to salt.
- Add with simple syrup, minced garlic and lime to make Vietnamese Nuoc Cham. The dip is sweet and savory. Use it as a dipping for spring rolls, dressing for vermicelli noodle salad, or a dressing for broken rice plate.
- Use it to make kimchee.
- For Thai and Lao dishes, combine with lime, garlic, sugar, and grounded Thai chilies as a condiment for grilled meats.
- Use it as replacement for anchovies in Italian recipes (we add a dash to pasta dishes)
- Check out Bon Appetit’s article on 15 Ways to Use Fish Sauce in Non-Asian Cooking