Fish Sauce - Introduction
"Fish Sauce" is called for in many recipes on this site, from all
over Southeast Asian and a few from China and the Roman Empire. This page
is a quick introduction for persons unsure what the product is. It is
completely impossible to reproduce the true flavor of ethnic cuisines that
use fish sauce without using fish sauce. "Fish sauce is God stuff" -
actual quote from a West Virginia man introduced to fish sauce by a
It is interesting to note that a concentrated fish sauce is used by
some Italian chefs, but it is unknown if it has any continuity with that
used during the Roman Empire. Production of fish sauce in Spain ceased
sometime during the Muslim occupation.
The Fish Sauce we are dealing with here is a perfectly clear dark amber
liquid with no sediment or cloudiness. It has a distinct aroma of fish but
this aroma is generally not noticeable after incorporation into a recipe.
Vegetarians: You will find many Southeast Asian recipes
that are entirely vegetarian except for fish sauce. If you reject all
seafood products, the closest you can get with pre-prepared ingredients
is Thai Yellow Bean Sauce. Bottled
"vegetarian fish sauces" are sometimes available in markets serving a
Vietnamese (but not Thai) community, but they are pretty awful. We have
developed recipes for both clear and murky
Vegetarian Fish Sauce which
will give better results than the usual "light soy sauce" or "plain
salt and water" so often recommended.
For much more on the many kinds of fish sauces made, see our
main Fish Sauce page.
sf_fshsaucz 100705 - www.clovegarden.com
Buying: Fish sauce will be found in all markets that
serve a Southeast Asian community, and there will probably be many
brands. Described here are some of the most prominent.
- Thai Kitchen (front left in photo) is the one brand that
can now be found in many regular supermarkets, nation-wide. It's of
decent quality, but a bit high priced if you use a lot of fish sauce.
- Squid Brand: This is a highly thought of brand that
I have used on practically a daily basis (back center in photo). It
is slightly lighter than the average Thai fish sauce so is also
perfect for Vietnamese cooking. The one problem is, it comes with a
"shaker" cap and I want to pour, so I use a utility knife to cut the
- Megachef: (not shown - tall bright blue bottle). This
is my current favorite, a "super-permium" sauce created by the people
who make Squid brand.
- Three Crabs Brand: This higher priced sauce has long
had a cult following among the foodie set, but is definitely not
favored by experienced Thai cooks. It is "fermented in Thailand", but
I'm a bit suspicious about what "processed in Hong Kong" means (lead
added?), and what are fructose and hydrolized wheat protein (a weasel
word for MSG) doing in Fish Sauce? There are several other brands
with the exact same fine print coming from the same factory.
- Red Boat: This has recently (2016) taken the foodie set by
storm. I guess it's extremely high price is a big factor (it's just
got to be better, right?). Though from Vietnam, it is much stronger
than Thai, and a bit harsh in my opinion. It is highly recommended by
an Internet comparison page, made by just two tasters who have no
Asian credentials whatever. The fish sauces most recommended by
experienced Thai cooks are near the bottom of their comparison.
- Tipparos Brand: Despite its cheap seeming plastic
bottle, this brand is highly thought of by Thai cooks.
- Thai Fish Sauce: Most of the brands you will find in
markets are of Thai manufacture. Thailand has been the center of
fish sauce production since the fall of the Roman Empire (in Roman
times it was Spain).
- Vietnamese Fish Sauce is essentially interchangeable with
Thai fish sauce - on average a little lighter, but similar to Squid
- Philippine Fish Sauces (Patis - back right in photo) are
considered of lesser quality because they are usually made from a mix
of fish types and as a byproduct of making sauces from the sludge left
in the tanks. Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce use only anchovies. and
it is the sludge sauces that are the byproduct.
- Vegetarian Fish Sauce is available in some markets serving
a Vietnamese community (Vietnamese Buddhism is stricter than Thai).
It is not clear and generally pretty awful (see notes in the header
Storing: Fish sauce, tightly capped and kept in a cool
place out of direct sunlight, can be kept at room temperature for up to
a few months. The contents of a bottle that has been opened and has
quite a bit of air in it will darken somewhat, but it does not spoil.
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