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  • Serves: 6 Servings

Fish Sauce

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Category: Thai, Vietnamese, Condiments

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  • Stephen Ceideburg
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FISH SAUCE 1 The profusion of fish sauce can be a bit
confusing. In general, the lighter colored ones seem
to be bettermore subtly flavored and less salty. I
just found an excellent one the other day (at Safeway
of all places) called "Shrimp Sauce". There's a
picture of a shrimp on the label. The label is a bit
confusing. The Vietnamese and English on the label
call it fish sauce (nuoc mam) but the ingredients are
listed as water, shrimp and salt. Unfortunately I
can't read the Thai or Chinese on the label, but it
has the symbol of "First Grade Quality" from the Thai
Indus- trial Standard Institute. At any rate, it's
good stuff. Here's a little discourse on fish sauce
from "The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam" by Bach Ngo and
Gloria Zimmerman.

"Fish sauce is to Vietnamese cooking whet salt is to
Western and soy sauce to Chinese cooking. It is
included in practically all recipes. Prepared from
fresh anchovies and salt, layered in huge wooden
barrels, the manufacture of fish sauce is a major
industry. The factories are located along the coast to
assure the freshness of the fish to be processed.
Fermentation is started once a year, during the
fishing season. After about 3 months in the barrel,
liquid drips from an open spigot, to be poured back
into the top of the barrel. After about 6 months the
fish sauce is produced.

The first draining is the very best fish sauce,
lighter in color and perfectly clear. It is relatively
expensive and is reserved for table use. The second
and third drainings yield a fish sauce of lower
quality and lower cost fro general-purpose cooking.
The two towns most noted for their fish sauce are Phi
Quoc and Phan Thiet. Phu Quoc produces the best fish
sauce, some of which is exported. On the label, the
work "nhi" signifies the highest quality. When fish
sauce manufactured in Vietnam is not available, that
of Thailand or Hong Kong is quite acceptable.
Philippine or Chinese fish sauce will not be
satisfactory. For table use and available in all
Oriental groceries is Squid Brand Fish Sauce, the best
one on the market. Whatever the brand, look for "Ca
Com" on the label, which means that only anchovies
were usedan indication of the highest quality for
table use."

In the following post, another author presents more
info, some a bit contradictory to the above.


This is from "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Routhier.

"...It enhances and blends so subtly with other
flavors that one can barely detect its presence."

"Like olive oil and good wine, there are different
grades of fish sauce. The very best fish sauce is
obtained from the first drainage. The resulting liquid
is amber in color, very dark and usually expensive. If
you see the words "nhi" or "thuong hang" on a label,
it means that the fish sauce of of the highest
quality. This type of fish sauce is usually reserved
for table use. Sec- ond-grade nuoc mam, cheaper and
intended for all-purpose cooking, is made by adding
water and pressing the fish after the first- quality
sauce has been extracted. The resulting liquid is
light and very clear."

"Fish sauce (nuoc mam): Nuoc mam is like Thai "nam
pla" but stronger..."Squid" and "Ruang Tong" brands
are widely available, bottled, in Oriental markets and
some supermarkets..."

So there it is. Ya pays yer money and yer takes yer
chances... I doubt if you'll find any Vietnamese fish
sauce, considering the embargo, but the Thai nuoc mam
is supposed to be as good. In fact, I'll go out on a
limb and say that, considering the fact that Thailand
is just around the corner from Vietnam and has a lot
of Vietnamese living there, that the differences would
be undetectable. I'd get a bottle of light stuff and a
bottle of the darker stuff (Tiparos brand comes to
mind) and play around with them. At one time I had
five different brands on the shelf. The stuff's pretty
cheap and none of it was what I'd consider inferior.

Now you know as much about fish sauce as I do...

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