One whiff of its pungent, unabashedly funky aroma straight from the bottle, and it’s clear that fish sauce wants no introduction. Actually, it skips proper previous it. Sometimes made by fermenting small fish, like anchovies, with salt for a number of months in picket barrels earlier than extracting the liquid by strain and time, fish sauce is understood for its skill to show up the amount on every little thing it touches. Its distinct essence of the ocean has many kitchen purposes, together with the smacking umami bursting with brightness when mixed with limes or calamansi in dipping sauces like nuoc cham or patismansi, in addition to mellow emulsions with olive oil and parsley over pasta, as within the Amalfi staple spaghetti con la colatura di alici.
Every fish sauce–producing area—from the shores of Vietnam’s Phu Quoc to Italy’s Amalfi Coast—affords a distinct style of the ocean, much like the best way we consider terroir with wines. Circumstances like local weather, ocean salinity, and water depth give the anchovies (and generally different small fish, like sardines, scad, or mackerel)—and the ensuing fermented sauce—a definite taste that can not be replicated elsewhere. As such, a single bottle of fish sauce in your pantry tells just one aspect of the story. That is one thing to hunt out for a complete part of the shelf.
Right here, we’ve put collectively a compact information to assist navigate the broad world of fish sauce, with recommendation on discover your favourite bottle(s) and incorporate them into much more of your cooking.
Bottles: Every model will current completely different flavors—notably relying on the varieties of fish used, fermentation time, and presence (or lack) of components like sugar and preservatives. Red Boat Fish Sauce, aged for one yr utilizing black anchovies from the Gulf of Thailand, has change into a cult favourite in recent times for its purity and depth of umami. Equally, Nettuno’s anchovy colatura, aged for 2 to a few years, boasts a concentrated taste.
There are even vegan replacements—the place seaweed, mushrooms, and pineapple are deployed to imitate fishy funk—similar to Mama Dút’s Phish Sauce, primarily based in Portland, Oregon. Discovering the proper bottle for you is merely a matter of desire, with Asian grocery retailer manufacturers like Megachef, Three Crabs, and Rufina fashionable amongst house cooks as properly.
Books: The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook, on account of hit cabinets in October 2021, is a group of 100 recipes to benefit from that liquid gold, together with tales of founder Cuong Pham’s journey to create a fish sauce that would meet his personal excessive requirements. Leela Punyaratabandhu’s Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill has no scarcity of concepts so as to add a punch of umami to your outside cooking routine, from zippy dressings for Thai-style pork salad to the noodles in grilled stuffed wings.
Recipes: Christian Reynoso’s fish sauce vinaigrette—a nod to Vietnamese nuoc cham lengthened with Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar—exhibits off the ingredient’s versatility atop crunchy salads and grilled steaks. If you happen to’re into soy sauce–marinated egg yolks, Punyaratabandu’s fish sauce–marinated yolks take them to the following degree. The simplistic nature of spaghetti con la colatura permits the umami essence to essentially shine, whereas Eric Kim’s roasted chicken gets amplified with fish sauce butter. How about a couple of drops in your daiquiri? Why not!
Assets: One bottle of fish sauce is not enough, states cookbook writer Andrea Nguyen. (And we don’t disagree.) Her personal private assortment (pictured above) tallies to a dozen—with every serving their very own goal to leverage the proper stability of salinity, depth, and seaside savoriness. For VICE, Bettina Makalintal takes a have a look at the various vegan-friendly alternatives that turn to black beans, pineapple, and soy sauce.
Gear: There’s no rule that claims it's a must to accompany your fish sauce with citrus, although it typically acts as a trusty acidic counterpart. Chef Anita Lo swears that that is the only citrus juicer you need. And while you’re making an enormous batch of nuoc cham or French dressing, it’ll absolutely come in useful. Personally, I’m a fan of utilizing a tiny whisk to whip up my very own citrusy, fish sauce–laden dressings.
Methods to Wing It at Residence: Most fish sauce fanatics provides you with broad recommendation and let you know to “put it on every little thing”—and so they’re not unsuitable. Beatrice Ughi, founder and president of Italian meals importer Gustiamo (recognized in her circle because the Colatura Queen), suggests including a couple of drops of colatura to the inspiration of dishes like soffritto or as a ending aspect to pasta, whereas recipe developer Christian Reynoso recommends pairing a fish sauce–spiked French dressing with citrus salads, grilled mushrooms, and juicy summer time tomatoes. A mere teaspoon can pack a punch—so train restraint.
Inline photograph by Andrea Nguyen