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We all want to be useful. (FISH SAUCE)

April 12, 2011

During a recent class at the Astor Center, I was asked a question that I thought deserved public answering. One of the recipes we prepared included fish sauce. As an ingredient that is often used sparingly, my student wondered how to make a dent in the bottle that sits around after being used only once in an experimental while. In other words –allow me to paraphrase– ‘what the hell do I do with this stuff?’

A little background on fish sauce; it is the liquid extracted from salted and fermented fish or shrimp. Lending an aquatic (as in the bottom of an aquarium) and briny note, it is a major ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Each country has its own process by which they produce the stuff but Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Korea, Southern China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan all use a variation of fish sauce in alot or at least a little of their cooking. In my experience with Vietnamese food, it is a ubiquitous and staple item, sort of like the t-shirts they sell in tourist shops that say ‘Good Morning Vietnam!’.

The truth is, it stinks like no one’s business only to be intensified when heated. This should stop aforementioned no one from using this product. Once mixed with other ingredients it turns on its magic, amplifying the existing flavors, doing that umami thing that I can’t describe. It does something to make a dish taste as delicious as it did sitting on a small plastic chair, overlooking the beach at Nha Trang.

Wikipedia does a great job of providing mostly the truth and lots more fish sauce details. My mission is to list a few ways to help get through that bottle a little quicker.

TOP 15 USES FOR FISH SAUCE

  • in a curry
  • in salad dressing
  • as a marinade
  • as a dipping sauce
  • in a peanut sauce
  • in a crab cake or fish croquette
  • in a vegetable soup/stew (fish sauce loves kale!)
  • in beef stew
  • in (Asian style) chicken soup
  • in fried rice
  • sprinkle on fish before roasting/grilling
  • in a dumpling filling
  • tossed with noodles
  • in kimchi
  • in a stirfry

(‘in a stirfry’ is such a cop-out.) Enjoy!

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