Ingredient Spotlight: Fish Sauce

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Fish Sauce (left) & Soy Sauce (right)

The other day I picked up a bottle of fish sauce.  (I was craving Singapore Mei Fun Noodles something fierce…and I’ve heard that even though fish sauce isn’t absolutely necessary in Singapore Noodles, it adds a delicious umami quality and fantastic depth of flavor.  And who am I to argue with umami and depth of flavor?)

So I made the noodles, and was left wondering what I was going to use the rest of the bottle of fish sauce for.

Turns out, I didn’t have to wonder for long.  I used the sauce in a Thai-Inspired Chicken Pizza (the pizza sauce was basically satay sauce – so good!) as well as a Coconut Beef Curry not long after.  And then I found an article with even more ideas on how to use it:  soups, vinaigrettes, marinades, dipping sauces, and even guacamole.  (I admit, I am seriously intrigued by that last idea!)

As I was thinking about other ways to use the sauce, I realized I wanted to spotlight this ingredient on my blog…because really, I barely knew anything about it before this, and I thought there might be some of you out there who are in the same boat.  So here are a few of the basics about this sauce.

Where is fish sauce from?  Southeast Asia; it’s frequently used in the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

What is fish sauce made of?  Salted, fermented fish.  I know how it sounds, but wait, don’t go!  Remember Worcestershire sauce – the sauce that’s often used in barbeque sauces, Bloody Mary cocktails, and Caesar salad dressing.  Worcestershire also adds incredible flavor to just about any dish containing beef, and my mom always adds a dash of it to her cheese sauce too.  Well, Worcestershire sauce is also a fermented sauce and contains anchovies.  And if you’re into ancient cookery at all, fish sauce will probably remind you of the condiment garum used in classic Roman cooking.

What dishes can I use fish sauce in?  Satays, curries, Asian fried noodle and rice dishes, soups, vinaigrettes, marinades, dipping sauces, and even guacamole.  Or if you feel like experimenting with it, you can try it in dishes that you would normally use soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce in.

Information on fish sauce in this post came from the following sources:  Cooking Light, Wikipedia, and Thai Food About.com. 

Just to whet your appetite, here’s a photo of my Singapore Mei Fun Noodles.  :) 

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Comments

  1. says

    I never use fish sauce, but I do use anchovy sauce, so I’m thinking I can make the cross over. I think I’m missing out. Very informative post and a picture of very appetizing food.

  2. says

    Hi:

    Some friendly corrections to your information about fish sauce:

    Fish sauce was originally produced by the Carthaginians (or perhaps by the Phoenicians) and later by the Greeks and the Romans. Along the Silk Road, its distribution was very wide across the Old World.

    After the empire fell, its use persisted for a few centuries but it eventually died out in the west and is evidenced today only by colatura anchovy sauce still produced in Italy.

    Strong evidence for production in E Asia and SE Asia isn’t evident until centuries after the fall of Rome – well into our late middle ages. It was used widely in E Asia but eventually got outcompeted by soy sauces although most E Asia cultures still have fish sauces in use today (just not to the degree of cuisines in SE Asia).

    So although it persists largely in the SE Asia today, its origin was probably Levantine or N. African with the Phoenicians. I’ve made my own at home and have lots of recipes for it on The Silk Road Gourmet – for those who are interested.

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