Asian fish sauce
Ever wonder what makes Thai and Vietnamese food so flavorful? One of the reasons is the near ubiquitous use of Asian fish sauce. Fish sauce, is rich in glutamates and provides the satisfying umami taste to many Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Fish sauce is also used in Cambodian and Philippine food. There are Japanese and Korean versions of fish sauce. Worstershire, also made of anchovies and salt, is the closest version of Western fish sauce.
What is Asian fish sauce made of?
Asian fish sauce is made of fermented fish, typically but not always anchovies, and sea salt. Some manufacturers add additional herbs and spices. The length of time the sauce is fermented determines how "fishy" the taste. Shorter fermentation results in a stronger fish taste and odor and longer fermentation results in a more nuanced and savory flavor.
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Use fish sauce as an ingredient or as a condiment
Fish sauce is used as an ingredient in many Thai dishes, but it is also used as a condiment, often times as a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, chili and garlic. Fish sauce can be added to many western dishes for umami taste. Try it in guacamole, soups, marinades and vinaigrettes. The secret to using fish sauce without making your dish overly "fishy" is to pair fish sauce with lime juice or rice wine vinegar. The combination of fish sauce and acid is terrific. Remember, a little goes a long way.
Different qualities of fish sauce
The first draining of the fermented fish produces the highest quality of fish sauce, that is used for condiment purposes. Second and third draining result in an inferior quality fish sauce.
Which fish sauce?
Thai Kitchen fish sauce can be found in many grocery stores in the Asian food section. This made-for-the-American-market fish sauce works fine, but you may want to try out some more authentic fish sauce.
3 Crab fish sauce is highly recommended by many Asian cooks. Bon Appetit mentioned 3 Crab as "A Chef's Secret ingredient." 3 Crab has added fructose that makes it slightly sweeter than other fish sauces.
Red Boat fish sauce is a highly rated, first press, no-additive fish sauce.
How to store
There are various thoughts on storing fish sauce, with some saying there is no need to refrigerate after opening. My bottle says to refrigerate so I do. If your fish sauce begins to crystalize, it is time to throw it out and get a new bottle.