After finding out that my cousin has her own blog and having read her post on the use of fish sauce, I took this picture to personally vouch for the one that I use at home.
In her post she writes: "Fish sauce is not just for Asian dishes -- it deepens the taste of pretty much any cuisine." So true!
I use it as a "kakushi aji", or hidden taste, to bring out an element of umami (savoriness) in any dish needing support in that area.
It would seem on the surface that all fish sauces are alike, and certainly one is forgiven in believing that given that they all seem to be labeled alike. It sometimes seems as if half of them are named "Phu Quoc", the Vietnamese island reknowned for their fish sauce. (Even in the VN markets I don't think I ever came across a fish sauce imported from Vietnam. One will find that almost all fish sauce imported into the U.S. invariably comes from Thailand, as is the case with the one pictured here...)
And common advice on the internet says that price should be your guide. But it has been my experience that there's really no such thing as an expensive fish sauce - they all seem to be priced in a very narrow pricing range.
I stumbled upon this particular fish sauce after studying many ingredient labels, carefully avoiding the ones with the obvious additives, eyeing the depth and quality of color through their bottles, and blindly trying to divine which bottle spoke out to me as being the most true. But honestly it was just dumb luck. It turned out to be fantastic stuff, or at the very least the only fish sauce that actually tasted like how I (a non-VN gringo) thought a good fish sauce should taste like.
I would later find out that one of the key things to look for in a fish sauce is the word "nhi", which indicates that it's produced from the very first pressing of salted, fermented fish. In a way it's somewhat akin to the very first pressing of olives that results in an extra virgin olive oil (albeit without the fermented fish part!)...
Yes, though it may not sound very appetizing, fermented fish is a very good thing, beyond being easy fodder and a "gimme" for a Fear Factor producer. Even the ancient Romans had their own fish sauce called garum, albeit by the same people who undertook a massive infrastructure project just to deliver lead-tainted water.
Much closer to home and to our time, who hasn't heard of Worcestershire sauce, which is, essentially, a fermented fish sauce.
And then there's the joys of Edo Mae Nigiri Sushi, the process of its creation requiring the pressing of fish onto a small vinegared ball of rice. It is believed by many that an instant form of fermentation occurs in this contact area between fish and rice, rendering the fish proteins and hence subtly transforming its flavors. (Perhaps... ...and if one does not subscribe to that belief, at least one can be assured that the earlier forms of sushi involved well-fermented fish of the non-instant variety!)
My Favorite Fish Sauce (nuoc mam)
Tuesday, June 03, 2008