You may have noted that fish sauce is used in the preparation of certain Chinese meals. Well, when it comes to Southeast Asian dishes, particularly Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese, the use of fish sauce is a staple.
Fish sauce is anything but ordinary. To begin with, it is rich in colour being a translucent reddish-golden brown. It is sweet, salty, fishy, and the good kind of funky all at once. The fish sauce definitely lives up to its name. Most if not all of its flavour is derived from the process of fermenting fish. This fermentation can take anywhere from six months to even one whole year.
Salt is usually added in to the mixture. It plays the part of drawing the water and moisture out of the anchovies or krill while the natural bacteria start to break down the fish, producing a briny, fishy, savoury liquid which is fish sauce.
Note that the mixture is usually strained or sieved in order to separate the fish sauce from the anchovies that will have already played their part.
What is mainly contained in a fish sauce that constitutes the key ingredients are fish, water, and salt. Sometimes sugars such as caramel or molasses are added, but it is not an absolute necessity.
Does fish sauce go bad? Well, it would take a lot to make the fish sauce go bad. Seeing as it is already fermented fish, the sure way that it can go bad is if it is exposed to the elements in the environment or just not properly stored. This could mean anything from leaving an opened bottle in room temperature, to not properly sealing the bottle after use.
How to Use Fish Sauce
If you are anything like me, even just opening a bottle of fish sauce is scary since it does not have the best scent or smell. But anyway, what else did we expect from fermented fish? Lol.
Since fish sauce gives meals a unique umami flavour and touch, it can be used similarly to how anchovies are used in other cuisines or meals.
Keep in mind though that fish sauce is very salty so using it sparingly would not be such a bad idea. There are some cooks and chefs who use fish sauce in the stead of salt.
Further to this, fish sauce is a good addition to rice dishes, more so, fried rice. It also pairs quite well with noodles and as such is a very key ingredient in the preparation of dipping sauces and even dressings for certain salads.
How to Buy Fish Sauce
Factually speaking, any brand that is of high quality and has good ratings or reviews from its consumers is good to go.
The main difference in price range would usually be because of comparing how long the fish sauces were fermented and how pure they are. Purity in this case means that the fish sauce has less sugar added to it as well as fewer other additives that have been added to it.
Another thing that would go a long way in determining the fish sauce you end up buying whether at the grocery store or the farmers market is the type of fish sauce you are on the search for.
There are essentially three types of fish sauce which are:
- Nam pla is the first option. This fish sauce is often, sourced from Thailand and can prove to be way saltier than other fish sauces available. The word nam pla loosely translates to “fish water”.
- Nuoc mam is the second variety. Sourced from Vietnam and known around the world for its qualities of being light and sweet, this variety has even attained protected status in Vietnam and Europe. The quality is A1.
- Finally, we have patis. This variety is sourced from the Philippines and is generally heavier and the taste more pronounced than in other types of fish sauce.
Also be on the lookout for whether the fish sauce is generic, traditional, or processed. The difference here comes in with regards to how the fish sauce has been prepared.
How to Make Homemade Fish Sauce
Well, you would have to start off with water. Keeping in mind that it will be about half the volume of this sauce itself, know that the volume of water you start with will be half of what you end up within the final sauce.
Mix the water with sugar and lime or lemon, if it becomes too sweet, add some water, if it is not sour enough add some more citrus. (Results may vary each time because of the different results since limes or lemons can vary in liquid, pulp, acidity.
Slowly add the fish sauce in increments until you reach the right viscosity, all the while mixing the sauce and tasting it along the way.
What Are the Best Fish Sauce Substitutes?
If I run out of fish sauce, the best go-to substitute is soy sauce. The flavour of soy sauce is darker and more caramel than the bright sour saltiness from fish sauce, but you will have to use less than your usual fish sauce.
You could also mix soy sauce with rice vinegar or soy sauce and lime juice to achieve the same salty, sour freshness.
If you are a vegan but still want to enjoy the flavour of fish sauce, a combination of dried shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce creates a vegetarian substitute for the fish sauce as well.
How to Store Fish Sauce
It is not essential that you have to refrigerate fish sauce. This is because the salt that it contains will crystallize. Now, this does not mean that fish sauce will last forever.
Without a doubt, it can deteriorate in terms of its quality over a given period of time. This deterioration results in the change of colour and even taste. There can be some occurrences of mould or yeast developing on the surface or spout of the bottle.
Provided it is stored at room temperature and the bottle is ever tightly sealed, fish sauce, whether opened or not, can keep best for between three and four years. There will always be an expiration date printed on the bottle of fish sauce.
Usually, this date does not necessarily mean that the fish sauce will not be good for consumption but rather that the quality of the fish sauce will be considerably lower past that date. When the fish sauce does begin to go bad due to lack of proper storing, it develops the tell-tale signs that indicate spoilage.
In some cases of spoilage, the sauce develops an off odour, flavour, or appearance, at which point it should be thrown out.
The best way to store fish sauce is ultimately in its original airtight container in a cool dark place like in the pantry or a kitchen cabinet, away from direct contact to the elements in the environment like sunlight and fluctuation in temperature.
How to Get Rid of Or Neutralize the Smell of Fish Sauce
Generally speaking, and without a doubt, the smell of the fish sauce is not the most alluring smell. This is mostly because of the use of fermented fish to make the sauce in the first place.
I am sure you have experienced a case where you have prepared the most delicious meal but now your whole house or apartment smells like the bottom of the ocean or the inside of a fish.
I am more than 100 per cent sure you will enjoy this list of some of the ways that you can reduce, get rid of, or neutralize the smell of fish sauce the same way I did.
- To begin with, you can choose to cook using a fish sauce with your windows open. This way, some of the smell of the fish sauce will drift outside and as such will not be very concentrated in the house.
- If you have a fan in the kitchen, you can also turn it on, and this will help to distribute the smell.
- Further, you can take some white vinegar in a cooking pot and heat it on the stove. This method is best utilized at the end of the cooking process. Once the white vinegar is in the cooking pot and on the heat, let it simmer for between 45 minutes and an hour. The vinegar helps because it is a natural deodorizer.
- As an alternative, you can choose to cut up some lemons or oranges to help in drowning the smell of fish sauce. You can even go a step further and add them to some water in a cooking pot and bringing them to a slight boil. You can also add some cinnamon and cloves to this boiling mixture.
- Finally, you can choose to add the fish sauce to the meal being prepared at the tail end of the cooking. This way, the smell of the fish sauce is not left lingering in the air for too long as it is soon “consumed”.