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What Is Fish Sauce

What Is Fish Sauce

Few ingredients bring as much quick, show-stopping taste to a dish as fish sauce does. It's sweet, salty, fishy, and enjoyableky suddenly, a prismatic tsunami of flavor. But...what's fish sauce? We have all had it in some unspecified time in the future or another whether or not we knew it or not—pad thai, anybody?—but that doesn't mean we know what's in it.

Well...fish, actually. Fish sauce lives up to the name. It does, as advertised, derive most of its taste from fish, but you do not just smack a fish round and out plops a bottle of fish sauce. The real taste comes from the process of fermenting fish for anyplace from a pair months to a couple years. Small fish like anchovies are coated in salt and packed in massive barrels to hold out. The natural bacterias begin to break down the fish, producing a briny, fishy, savory liquid. That, associates, is fish sauce.

Fermentation has been used for hundreds of years to develop taste in anything from fish to meat to beans to vegetables. Many cultures use or have used a fermented fish sauce, from the Greeks to the Chinese, but we most commonly associate it with Southeast Asian cooking. It provides one of the driving flavors in dishes like larb, Vietnamese marinated meats, green papaya salad, and stir-fries, as well as pad thai.

We love the flavour of fish sauce for its umami, the earthy, savory flavor discipline that makes things like mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and soy sauce style so complicated and crave-able. There’s a distinct, pungent fishiness to the sauce, sure, but that taste is flanked by a salty, briny, caramel-y sweetness. It’s an ingredient that provides you a little bit of everything when thrown into marinades, stir-fries, and salad dressings, and it's just as helpful in non-Asian cooking too. A little fish sauce can enhance salty, savory taste in sautéed greens, pastas, roast chicken, or broths. Generally speaking, we're down to experiment with a dash of fish sauce whenever we would in any other case add salt. It’s aggressively flavorful though, so make sure to add just a bit at a time and style as you go. A little goes a long way.

When it comes to purchasing fish sauce, there are hundreds of varieties on the market, and in the event you head to an Asian market you’ll be able to find more regionally-particular manufacturers and variations.

Like most things, fish sauce takes a minute to get to know, and once you know what fish sauce is you are ready to get that relationship going. Hang out with it. Invite it to dinner. Experiment with different proteins and vegetables. And crack a beer while you’re at it. Your fish sauce friendship is blossoming. What a gorgeous time to be alive.

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