Few ingredients carry as a lot quick, show-stopping flavor to a dish as fish sauce does. It is sweet, salty, fishy, and funky abruptly, a prismatic tsunami of flavor. But…what is fish sauce? We’ve all had it sooner or later or one other whether 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, however you don’t just smack a fish round and out plops a bottle of fish sauce. The real flavor comes from the process of fermenting fish for wherever from a couple months to a couple years. Small fish like anchovies are coated in salt and packed in massive barrels to hang out. The natural bacterias start to break down the fish, producing a briny, fishy, savory liquid. That, associates, is fish sauce.

Fermentation has been used for 1000’s of years to develop flavor 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, however we most commonly affiliate it with Southeast Asian cooking. It provides one of many 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 subject that makes things like mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and soy sauce taste so complex 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 gives 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 boost salty, savory taste in sautéed greens, pastas, roast chicken, or broths. Typically speaking, we’re down to experiment with a dash of fish sauce each time we might in any other case add salt. It’s aggressively flavorful though, so remember to add just a bit at a time and taste as you go. A little goes a protracted way.

When it comes to buying fish sauce, there are hundreds of varieties out there, and should you head to an Asian market you’ll be able to search out more regionally-particular manufacturers and variations.

Like most things, fish sauce takes a minute to get to know, and when 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 buddieship is blossoming. What a ravishing time to be alive.

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