Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Fish Sauce


Recommended Posts

I have a love hate relationship with fish sauce. It's got to be there, but I don't want to know. Does that make sense? Without it, there's definitely something missing. But if it's strong enough that I recognize the taste, it's too strong.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I pretty much only use Thai fish sauce, but not for any particular reason. When I worked for Chef Gary Robins, we made a Red Chile Chutney that included red finger peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, each roasted separately, then ground together with fish sauce, a little sugar, and other stuff. Also a Chili-Garlic Dipping Sauce that started with making caramel with sugar and fish sauce instead of water. Don't know whether I also got to make it because I did it best, or because I didn't mind the smell. :raz:

At home I love adding it to all sorts of non-Asian dishes instead of salt; it gives an undefinable depth of flavor. But then I am a big proponent of mongrelization of cuisines :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They all stink raw, and they kind of stink when you cook with them, too. Most of Bangkok smells like diesel exhaust mixed with fish sauce, which is not a terrible thing if you're in a Blade Runner mood.

One of the reasons fish sauce seems to improve the flavor of almost everything is that it's loaded with glutamate.

For things like uncooked dipping sauces and salad dressings, if you don't like the full-on fish sauce assault, it's worth finding a mild premium Thai brand such as Baby or Tra Chang. I've been seeing Baby (aka Golden Boy) more and more. They have it at Uwajimaya in Seattle, at Osaka in Richmond, BC, and at Bangkok Center Grocery in Manhattan.

Despite the "premium" moniker, the premium brands still cost like $2.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like three crabs,and Squid brand fish sauce.I know that I've written about this before;it was interesting to find the latter day descendant of garum on the Amalfi coast,and seeing how it is made.Colatura is a refined Italian fish sauce,used on pasta,and unfortunately is not exported,as far as I know...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You guys should try patis, which is the Filipino version of nuoc mam and nam pla. Its both excellent as a salting agent and as a flavoring agent (emphasis on the FERMENTED part).

(Nuoc cham is nuoc mam, but with chilies added -- as an aside.)

And why stop with liquid sauce? Try bagoong, which is either fermented shrimp paste or fermented anchovy paste (depends on the maker) -- also available in Filipino markets. A little goes a long way. You can jazz up bagoong (although why you would want to is another story), as my grandmother sometimes does, by frying the bagoong in peanut oil until browned (but not burnt), and adding either minced chopped garlic or garlic that's been sauteed until lightly golden. To illustrate how powerful it is, 1/8 t. will flavor an entire bowl of rice.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have two fish sauces, but I reach for the Patis most often. My other which costs more is Global choice brand from Vietnam. I tend to use the Patis for dipping sauces and the Global for cooking.

Love the info on the other brands. I can see I'll be adding to my collection of fish sauces. You can never have to many! :laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had dinner with a well known home cook in Naples last year,and asked her about colatura.She showed me a little ceramic crock with a spigot that was full of anchovies and salt,weighted down.After a few months,she extracts the liquid that is pressed and extracted from the fish-and gets and unrefined liquid[garum].I would guess that a fine straining of the liquid yields the more refined result[colatura],often combined in a jar with oregano or thyme...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 6 months later...

I use them interchangeably. I beleive the Vietnamese stuff tends to be a bit stronger in flavor than the Thai and maybe a bit saltier but this also depends on the "draining" method used by the manufacturer for that particular brand. Both types are used in Laotian, Burmese, Filipino and Cambodian cooking as well.

Here's some articles on both:



Jason Perlow, Co-Founder eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

Foodies who Review South Florida (Facebook) | offthebroiler.com - Food Blog (archived) | View my food photos on Instagram

Twittter: @jperlow | Mastodon @jperlow@journa.host

Link to comment
Share on other sites

that's a good question. i don't recall seeing many recipes that specify "thai" vs. "vietnamese." i use thai all of the time. but only because i'm married to the brand "three crabs" (because ming uses it).

i'd be interested in knowing if there is an actualy difference. my vietnamese dipping sauce always turns out different than the stuff at vietnamese restaurants. perhaps that's part of it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From my limited comparisons, Thai fish sauce is nicer.

More refined and less sweet. I've probably been influenced by thai cooking teachers though...

I'm married to squid brand.

How sad; a house full of condiments and no food.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The vietnamese sauce nuoc mam is usually darker and fishier than the Thai sauce nam pla. I've heard the Burmese fish sauce is even stronger, but haven't tried it.

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The reason I was asking is because I usually see recipes calling for either on or the other and it never says to substitute the other though occasionally it will say to substitute either more salt or soy sauce.

Are the cookbook authors just assuming if you don't have one type then you must not have the other one either?

I always use the Tiparos brand and was jsut wondering if it was worth it to buy a Vietnamese one as well.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have grown to love Squid brand in anything hot with seafood. It does seem to add that depth that you appreciate, but don't know where it comes from unless you do the cooking. While I love to cook with this stuff, I'm still not ready to "do shots" of it for a comparison test. How would you propose to do the test? Perhaps break your next use of it into camps?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

While I love to cook with this stuff, I'm still not ready to "do shots" of it for a comparison test. How would you propose to do the test? Perhaps break your next use of it into camps?

I'm quite serious about the "shots" form of taste-testing fish sauces.

Not easy to prove here on the boards but I'll do what I can, if necessary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anyone know anything about "unrefined" fish sauce. It's used in recipes in an article in the June Saveur on Thai food, in addition to regular fish sauce. I've never seen unrefined...what is it? :unsure:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
Anyone know anything about "unrefined" fish sauce. It's used in recipes in an article in the June Saveur on Thai food, in addition to regular fish sauce.  I've never seen unrefined...what is it?  :unsure:

I think by "unrefined" they were refering to what we called Pla Ra, not Nam Pla (Fish Sauce). Pla Ra is what you get when you mix small fish with lots and lots of salt and let them rot. The resulting product looks a bit muddy, with broken pieces of fish in it. Pla Ra is used in North-eastern food. Bangkokians look down our noses at it as positively stinky peasant food. :-) I have grown to like a couple of dishes made with Pla Ra, but they are cooked and dressed up so much they are mostly unrecognizable from the original form. I think it's a case of "you can take a girl out of Bangkok, but....) Pardon my ignorance. :-)

Nam Pla is made in much the same way, except that it is refined before bottling.

Of course my bias is for Thai Fish Sauce. I use Tiparos, becuase that's what my family used when I was growing up. You just don't change your fish sauce brand---that would be downright sacrilegious!

chez pim

not an arbiter of taste

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fish Sauce Information:

Find a lengthy article here: Fragrant fish and shrimp sauces add pungent punch to Asian cuisine

"Fish sauce is to Vietnamese cooking what salt is to Western and soy

sauce to Chinese cooking. It is included in practically all recipes.

Prepared from fresh anchovies and salt, layered in huge wooden

barrels, the manufacture of fish sauce is a major industry. The

factories are located along the coast to assure the freshness of the

fish to be processed. Fermentation is started once a year, during the

fishing season. After about 3 months in the barrel, liquid drips from

an open spigot, to be poured back into the top of the barrel. After

about 6 months the fish sauce is produced.

The first draining is the very best fish sauce, lighter in color and

perfectly clear. [Kinda like "Extra Virgin" fish sauce. S.C.] It is

relatively expensive and is reserved for table use. The second and

third drainings yield a fish sauce of lower quality and lower cost

for general- purpose cooking. The two towns most noted for their

fish sauce are Phu Quoc and Phan Thiet. Phu Quoc produces the best

fish sauce, some of which is exported. On the label, the "nhi"

signifies the highest quality. When fish sauce manufactured in

Vietnam is not available, that of Thailand or Hong Kong is quite

acceptable. Philippine or Chinese fish sauce will not be

satisfactory. For table use and available in all Oriental groceries

is Squid Brand Fish Sauce, the best one on the market. Whatever

brand, look for the "Ca Com" on the label, which means that only

anchovies were used++an indication of the highest quality for table


From "The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam", Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman,

Barron's, 1979.

Posted by Stephen Ceideberg; February 2 1992.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Create New...