A key ingredient in the cuisine of Southeast Asia,
fish sauce is a condiment made from the liquid of fermented fish
). The light-brown liquid is quite pungent and salty,
and a small amount can wake up otherwise bland dishes with vibrant,
Known as nam pla
in Thailand and nuoc mam
in Vietnam, fish sauce is also a popular flavoring and table salt substitute in Burma, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines.
There's good evidence that fish sauce came to Asia from the Roman Empire,
where it was first made centuries ago.
the Romans fermented fish in brine for several days under the sun and
then flavored the resulting liquid with oil, wine or spices.
While many grocery stores carry fish sauce, brands vary greatly in quality
and flavor. Authentic imports have
a richer taste and are more likely found in Asian specialty markets. Wherever you shop, base your selection on these two
factors: clarity and price.
Good fish sauce has a nice, translucent amber color, similar to brewed tea. Avoid brands that are as dark as soy sauce
When it comes to fish sauce, price reflects quality. Premium brands are
pleasantly fishy and moderately salty, making them suitable for raw vinaigrettes and dipping sauces, as well as cooked
Keep it in the pantry, away from light and heat. The condiment has a long shelf-life, but replace it if it starts to darken.
Different brands vary greatly in strength and salt content, so use fish
sauce with caution in your recipes. Start with a small amount and add
more to taste. Never serve fish sauce straight up.
Once you have a handle on its distinctive flavor, experiment by adding
a few drops to your tomato soup, pasta sauce, meat marinade
salad dressing or stir fry
. Fish sauce is actually a secret, "go-to"
ingredient employed by many Western chefs when their recipes are
missing "that certain something."
For more traditional uses, try a simple Thai dipping sauce called nam pla prik
Just mix fish sauce with minced Thai chilies and use it as a topping
for burgers or pasta. For a healthy Thai dressing, whisk a few drops of
fish sauce with lime juice
, chili peppers, sugar
When fish sauce is not available, soy sauce
is an acceptable substitute in most recipes.