Why You Need Fish Sauce in Your Pantry

In Season, Ingredient
on May 28, 2013
Fish Sauce Caesar Dressing 4_WEB
Mark Boughton Photography / styling: Teresa Blackburn

Fish sauce may not be a standard in your pantry alongside the rice or soy sauce, yet. But once you use some of the amber, aromatic elixir it will be. The heady aroma, and salty, fishy taste is irreplaceable in many Asian dishes, and frankly, well beyond. We splash it in salad dressings, hamburgers, and marinades of all kinds.

In Asian cultures, fish sauce enhances most every dish. Made from salt, water and anchovies, which have been pressed slowly until their essence has been extracted, fish sauce contributes the elusive fifth flavor of savory umami. This is the same flavor that Japanese cuisine finds in soy sauce, Italian chefs contribute through Parmegiano-Reggiano and that Auguste Escoffier added to his prototypical French dishes in the form of concentrated veal stock.

So don’t feel limited to just Asian dishes. A teaspoon added to homemade Caesar dressing or a couple tablespoons mixed in with your ground beef before hitting the grill will add a bold flavor that will make your recipes sing.

Which brand? A small bottle might be best to start with, as it’s dispensed mostly in teaspoons and tablespoons. For that reason we like the familiar brand, Taste of Thai, that comes in an 8 ounce bottle. There are of course, many Asian brands of fish sauce, commonly found in ethnic markets. The chef’s choice for fish sauce comes from Vietnam and is made with nothing but the freshest anchovies and native sea salt. Red Boat Fish Sauce sells only the first press of their product, not unlike the finest olive oils from Italy. The sauce is aged slowly in large native wood barrels to develop the nuanced sweet characteristics that separate Red Boat from other choices. Pick up a bottle at your favorite high-end supermarket or online and enjoy experimenting with this sharp new arrow in your culinary quiver.


By Chris Chamberlain