A New Look at Fish Sauce

February 16, 2017 1 Comment

Fish Sauce

My wife’s friend Laura from Chicago shared these thoughts that I wanted to pass along, especially since we recently wrote that a good substitute for Golden Mountain Sauce, which we included in our recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Steaks, is fish sauce.

Fish Sauce – A Not-So-New Go-To for Chefs and Home Cooks

by Contributing Writer Laura Sterkel

Having done a lot of research on fish sauce, Nuoc Nam (Vietnamese) or Nam Pla (Thai), I’ve identified an ocean of uses for this strange and smelly condiment – and vast differences in the taste among brands available.

One brand that is consistently recommended by purists and trending among renowned and rising-star chefs is Red Boat. Red Boat offers a whole website of great looking recipes from respected chefs at their website here.

Bon Appetit featured an article with some unexpected uses for the seasoning (much like Worcestershire, it is used in very small amounts to enhance flavors and add depth) of Chicken Stock, Shallot Vinaigrette, a height-of-summer Tomato Salad vinaigrette, a Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Mustard and Sage…yum!

Huffington Post asked “What is that flavor?”

Referencing the exotic deliciousness you may have noted slurping up Pad Thai, or in a cool, crisp, spicy green papaya salad or the dipping sauce for a Vietnamese dumpling or fresh Spring Roll, not just salty, but filled with umami, complexity, and a tang you couldn’t quite place.

What is Fish Sauce?

Fish sauce, a condiment used all over the world and especially in Asian cuisines, is made by fermenting fish and sea salt, common to many cultures. But not all pressed on, so to speak, with the result something much, much more than the sum of its parts.

When smelled and tasted alone, fish sauce can be really funky, but used sparingly (instead of salt) in marinades, dressings, dipping sauces, etc., this magical condiment somehow manages to make just about everything taste better.

arrow Add a dash to marinate skirt steak or fish for tacos.

arrow Combine with lime juice, sugar, garlic and peanuts as a dressing for Napa Cabbage, cilantro, with  julienned carrots and scallion; or similarly dressed blanched green beans with ginger and sesame (add a little Sambal).

arrow Add a hint to flavor Bloody Marys, Gazpacho or tomato aspic.

arrow Enhance all sorts of Asian, South American and Mediterranean/Caribbean soups, marinades and vinaigrettes, including a riff on a Caesar Dressing used for Grilled Romaine and Grilled Chicken salad.

How I Used Fish Sauce

On a cold winter night in Chicago, I had roasted winter vegetables charred in a cast iron skillet at Ampersand Wine Bar draped with a vinaigrette made with Sambal (an Indonesian hot sauce) and a touch of fish sauce. It was deliciously bold and spicy!

Food & Wine Magazine featured a tomato-ginger sauce for grilled or roasted halibut that had a little fish sauce and just a mere pinch of sugar.

With my interest piqued, I couldn’t believe how many cooking shows and magazines I came across recommending Nuoc Nam in a variety of dishes. You might wish to hold your nose but don’t turn it up, rather, see what you come up with – experiment and enjoy!”

Thanks Laura!

Some Additional Information – What’s In Red Boat Fish Sauce

From Vietnam, Red Boat’s fish sauce is made “using only the freshest cá cơm (black anchovy), salted minutes after leaving the sea then aged for over a year in traditional wooden barrels.”

From their website:  “The primary ingredient in Red Boat is select fresh wild-caught anchovy from the crystal clear waters off the Phu Quoc island archipelago. We use only black anchovy (Ca Com) to lend a unique character and superior flavor to our nước mắm nh.”




Last modified on Tue 23 July 2019 11:16 am

Filed in: Specialty Foods

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  1. Julia E. says:

    Great post! I like to add a tin of anchovies to my Bolognese sauce. The other day when I made some I was out. A lightbulb went off – Fish Sauce to the rescue! (A tiny bit, it can be potent.) I felt like my sauce had depth and no one asked, “What is that weird fish smell on my spaghetti?” I will be trying it more often. Now I want to try your suggestion in a Bloody Mary. 🙂

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