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Fish Sauce


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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.

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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:

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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

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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...

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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.

SA

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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:

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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...

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  • 1 year later...

I've been trying to learn more about Thai food in general and have been experimenting with different ingredients, to varying degrees of success. The first thing I purchased was fish sauce, as it is a basic to just about any Thai recipe. That just about put me off further experimentation all together - this stuff was truly vile. Even my husband, who loves Thai food of all sorts, said it wasn't any good.

I'd like to dive into laarb and the many wonders of Thai cuisine....but I need a good fish sauce to start. What are your favorite brands? I know I can count on this group to steer me the right way on all things Thai :biggrin:.

Edited by tejon (log)

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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I use the Squid brand, too. I think (and please someone correct me if I am wrong) all such fish sauce smells vile, because the stuff stinks until you cook with it....

it is pungent. however, i mostly use it in its raw form, as a dipping sauce. can't get enough of it.

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My favorite fish sauce (nam pla) is the Tiparos brand. I get mine from Thailand but I have seen it available online. Fish sauce is potent stuff and will always smell strong-but it has such a deep savory flavor that makes Thai food come alive! Be careful how much you use and make sure to put other flavorings like lime, tamarind juice or sugar to take off the harsh edge.

Also, if you want to make a good larb make sure to use roasted and ground rice. Larb is not larb without it!

Hope this helps.

-Jim

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I have used the Squid brand in a few cooking classes I have taken, but can't find it as readily as Tipars, which it seems that most of the grocery stores here in the DC area have started carrying.

Squid seemed a little more pungent, while Tiparos is a bit more mellow, without being too sweet.

Bill Russell

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t is pungent. however, i mostly use it in its raw form, as a dipping sauce. can't get enough of it.

Wow, that's gotta be pretty intense. I've made dipping sauce with it mixed with lime juice and garlic and chiles, but never alone. I'll have to try a dram straight up one of these days.

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t is pungent. however, i mostly use it in its raw form, as a dipping sauce. can't get enough of it.

Wow, that's gotta be pretty intense. I've made dipping sauce with it mixed with lime juice and garlic and chiles, but never alone. I'll have to try a dram straight up one of these days.

to clarify, usually with lime juice or vinegar and some sugar. however, i've been known to just sprinkle it on dishes, not much unlike what people might do with soy. on larb especially, if i don't think the balance is right.

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I use 3 crabs brand in my pro kitchen exclusively. I've found that no other fish sauce can compare to its flavor, although I recently tried a brand called Golden Boy that is pretty close. I use fish sauce quite a bit, not just Thai.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Three crab, hands down. If I can't find it, I settle for Golden Boy. But Three Crab is worth the extra money. It also smells less strong and recipes turn out better when I cook with it.

The cheap stuff in the plastic bottles almost always does me wrong.

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  • 3 years later...

Recently, I have been trying different kinds of fish sauce to see how much of a difference it makes. When I talk to people who use it every day their opinion on the best fish sauce seems to be an almost religious matter, like the choice of operating system. I started with the very cheap, Lucky (less than a dollar Canadian) have tried the baby brand (don't know the real name, just has the fat smiling baby on the front holding the bottle of sauce), working through a bottle of Thai stuff that has a squid on it (very salty) and am going to try the 3 crab brand next (5 dollars a bottle!)

There appears to be several other brands on the market and I am wondering which one is preferred out there on eGullet?

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Recently, I have been trying different kinds of fish sauce to see how much of a difference it makes. When I talk to people who use it every day their opinion on the best fish sauce seems to be an almost religious matter, like the choice of operating system. I started with the very cheap, Lucky (less than a dollar Canadian) have tried the baby brand (don't know the real name, just has the fat smiling baby on the front holding the bottle of sauce), working through a bottle of Thai stuff  that has a squid on it (very salty) and am going to try the 3 crab brand next (5 dollars a bottle!)

There appears to be several other brands on the market and I am wondering which one is preferred out there on eGullet?

The best in my opinion is Viet Huong (Three Crabs brand); though foodmiles-wise, am a little freaked out that my bottle says it's produced in Thailand, processed in Hong Kong, and distributed from the US - and purchased by me in Sydney!

It's much less salty than Squid brand and is wonderfully caramelly and umami-er.

The other best one IMO is the one with white pigeons on the label; I think it's a Phu Quoc based manufacturer - Phu Quoc being the island on which the premium Vietnamese fish sauce is supposedly produced.

Edited by rarerollingobject (log)
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I use the 3 Crabs as my regular one although I know it is processed and has additives. It just seems to work for me both in cooked and uncooked preps. It is also the brand my Vietnamese born good cook friend uses. I have never really experimented and probably should. My local Viet market gave away small bottles of a sauce one year that was really lovely (mellow and almost creamy?) but they did not continue to stock it so I know there are lots of options.

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I took a Thai cooking class many years ago, and the instructor recommended "Tiparose" (maybe Tiparos??) brand. Easily found in SoCal, only problem is it comes in like quart size bottles and I don't use that much, so it gets ummmmm........*funkier*.......than you would like after a while.

But I do prefer it to the other stuff I can find. I just end up ditching a lot of it. If you use it more frequently than I do, or have more space in your fridge (!!) then I'd say this is my prefered brand. Right now I have some (very embarrassed to say....) Thai Kitchen brand in the fridge, solely because it comes in a more reasonable size bottle.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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