Fish Sauce - Introduction
Bottled Sauces

"Fish Sauce" is called for in many recipes on this site, from all over Southeast Asian and a few from China and the Roman Empire. This page is a quick introduction for persons unsure what the product is. It is completely impossible to reproduce the true flavor of ethnic cuisines that use fish sauce without using fish sauce. "Fish sauce is God stuff" - actual quote from a West Virginia man introduced to fish sauce by a college roommate.

It is interesting to note that a concentrated fish sauce is used by some Italian chefs, but it is unknown if it has any continuity with that used during the Roman Empire. Production of fish sauce in Spain ceased sometime during the Muslim occupation.

The Fish Sauce we are dealing with here is a perfectly clear dark amber liquid with no sediment or cloudiness. It has a distinct aroma of fish but this aroma is generally not noticeable after incorporation into a recipe.

Vegetarians:   You will find many Southeast Asian recipes that are entirely vegetarian except for fish sauce. If you reject all seafood products, the closest you can get with pre-prepared ingredients is Thai Yellow Bean Sauce. Bottled "vegetarian fish sauces" are sometimes available in markets serving a Vietnamese (but not Thai) community, but they are pretty awful. We have developed recipes for both clear and murky Vegetarian Fish Sauce which will give better results than the usual "light soy sauce" or "plain salt and water" so often recommended.

For much more on the many kinds of fish sauces made, see our main Fish Sauce page.

Buying:   Fish sauce will be found in all markets that serve a Southeast Asian community, and there will probably be many brands. Described here are some of the most prominent.

  • Thai Kitchen (front left in photo) is the one brand that can now be found in many regular supermarkets, nation-wide. It's of decent quality, but a bit high priced if you use a lot of fish sauce.
  • Squid Brand:   This is a highly thought of brand that I have used on practically a daily basis (back center in photo). It is slightly lighter than the average Thai fish sauce so is also perfect for Vietnamese cooking. The one problem is, it comes with a "shaker" cap and I want to pour, so I use a utility knife to cut the hole bigger.
  • Megachef:   (not shown - tall bright blue bottle). This is my current favorite, a "super-permium" sauce created by the people who make Squid brand.
  • Three Crabs Brand:   This higher priced sauce has long had a cult following among the foodie set, but is definitely not favored by experienced Thai cooks. It is "fermented in Thailand", but I'm a bit suspicious about what "processed in Hong Kong" means (lead added?), and what are fructose and hydrolized wheat protein (a weasel word for MSG) doing in Fish Sauce? There are several other brands with the exact same fine print coming from the same factory.
  • Red Boat: This has recently (2016) taken the foodie set by storm. I guess it's extremely high price is a big factor (it's just got to be better, right?). Though from Vietnam, it is much stronger than Thai, and a bit harsh in my opinion. It is highly recommended by an Internet comparison page, made by just two tasters who have no Asian credentials whatever. The fish sauces most recommended by experienced Thai cooks are near the bottom of their comparison. Ignore it.
  • Tipparos Brand:   Despite its cheap seeming plastic bottle, this brand is highly thought of by Thai cooks.
  • Thai Fish Sauce:   Most of the brands you will find in markets are of Thai manufacture. Thailand has been the center of fish sauce production since the fall of the Roman Empire (in Roman times it was Spain).
  • Vietnamese Fish Sauce is essentially interchangeable with Thai fish sauce - on average a little lighter, but similar to Squid brand.
  • Philippine Fish Sauces (Patis - back right in photo) are considered of lesser quality because they are usually made from a mix of fish types and as a byproduct of making sauces from the sludge left in the tanks. Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce use only anchovies. and it is the sludge sauces that are the byproduct.
  • Vegetarian Fish Sauce is available in some markets serving a Vietnamese community (Vietnamese Buddhism is stricter than Thai). It is not clear and generally pretty awful (see notes in the header paragraph above).

Storing:   Fish sauce, tightly capped and kept in a cool place out of direct sunlight, can be kept at room temperature for up to a few months. The contents of a bottle that has been opened and has quite a bit of air in it will darken somewhat, but it does not spoil.

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