In The Pantry — Fish Sauce

Fish Sauce.jpg

This started out as a response to a comment on the Garbanzo & Potato in Red Curry Sauce recipe and when I filled up the comment window, I figured it made more sense to just make it a post. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to give a simple answer (sorry)…

So the other ingredient I should have expounded on in the recipe was Fish Sauce. I love fish sauce. It is made from fermenting fish over a period of several months and it is near the color of soy sauce. It has a very complex flavor that I just can’t describe, but it is in the same wheelhouse as soy sauce and mushrooms (Umami-esque). You should be able to find it in some supermarkets in the aisle with the usual lineup of Asian ingredients. But if your supermarkets doesn’t keep it stocked you may have to find an Asian supermarket or specialty store (or just order it online). Before you consider turning up your nose at fermented fish, keep in mind that if not for fermented crushed grapes, some dishes just wouldn’t be the same either. Now that I said that, I have to warn you, raw fish sauce straight out of the bottle stinks. It really does smell like fermented fish. HOWEVER… just a tiny amount cooked into a recipe can fill in all the flavor gaps you didn’t quite know were there and couldn’t have really described.

Forgive me for this explanation, because it’s just the way I think about food: Sometimes when you put all the ingredients together for a dish (I find this is true sometimes with curries), it feels like it all just kind of floats high over your tongue. Almost as though it was a flavor bubble that stays with the roof of your mouth but never really makes that true connection with your taste buds. Fish sauce is the pin that bursts the bubble and sends all that flavor crashing down on your tongue. It fills in all the cracks that are missing in some curry sauces. I think it does a masterful job of balancing coconut milk and red curry paste and giving you a full rounded out flavor. The key is not to use too much. Start with a teaspoon, stir it in and let it cook for a few minutes and taste. If you think you need more then add it. If you think you may have taken a curry dish too far with the fish sauce the best thing to do is to serve lime wedges with the dinner so people can squeeze it into the dish just before they eat it or you can just squeeze it on right before you serve it.

I highly recommend fish sauce if you’re willing to give a new ingredient a try.



  • Cass says:

    Viva la fish sauce!

  • Debra says:

    Chefs’ Secret Ingredients that Every Kitchen Needs
    Fish sauce. This Vietnamese condiment is made from fermented fish. Don’t be scared: Talde calls the Asian cooking staple his “number one ingredient” right now. He recommends adding just two or three drops to a seafood risotto or other fish dish to enhance flavor. It can also be used in soups, dressings, sautés, and dipping sauces.

    I told you from the beginning if the professionals can make money talking about it what is to stop you. And in this instance you brought it up first. Just doing my daily reading and it was shocking to come across this for the first time after you have said.

    • Monique says:

      Lol. Deb you are the best and so supportive. Fish sauce is a great “secret” ingredient. It’s also great for making mushroom dishes more “mushroomy”.

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