Many culinary enthusiasts and professional chefs have discovered the wonderful umami taste delivered by the humble fish sauce. In some Asian cuisines, fish sauce is used as commonly as salt. It is ubiquitous in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Lao and Filipino dishes. Typically, fish sauce is an extract made from dried or fresh fish, some from a single type of fish, others from an assortment from whatever the catch maybe. Salt is added to the extract, but some are also seasoned with herbs and other spices. Therefore the character of a bottle of fish sauce varies greatly.
A premium fish sauce, when used sparingly, gives that deep and full-bodied flavor which adds another dimension to many dishes. It is that distinctive note that teases one’s palate, making food so much more delicious. I’d say it is the secret ingredient deployed by quite a few chefs out there, enhancing the flavors from rack of lamb to kimchi! Some chefs even call it the natural MSG, and rightly so due to the glutamate content derived from the process.
Interestingly, fish sauce was once part of the Western gourmet culture. A fermented anchovy extract was used in classical Roman cooking over two thousand years ago. Known as garum, it was considered to be a supreme condiment, an essential flavoring for Ancient Roman cuisine.,
Modern day culinarians learned that fish sauce is very versatile. It enhances flavors of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, and can also be used for dipping, marinating and seasoning a large variety of recipes. Growing up in Hong Kong, I still remember how my mother used fish sauce to preserve leftover chunky roasted pork, skin and all, in a deep bowl of fish sauce, then covered with a lid for several days. Sliced thinly, these fish-sauce marinated pork would assume a different persona and a heavenly taste. We often topped our noodles with just a few slices of this tasty pork. Try that on a bowl of ramen noodles!
Fish sauce can be an excellent ingredient to dress grilled seafood. I typically would combine 3 tablespoons of quality fish sauce with 3 teaspoons of fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon of chili and 1 tablespoon of sugar for drizzling over grilled shrimp or other seafood for that refreshing taste.
With more people appreciating fish sauce these days, retail markets are now crowded with a variety of brands, and may overwhelm the average shopper. Should I get nước mắm or nam pla?Or is it nan pa? These are all regional differences. Like the many grades of olive oil or wine that assume different characteristics coming from grapes grown in different regions, people can sometimes feel intimated with so many choices.
Flying Lion (also sometimes referred to Phu Quoc brand) fish sauce is a leading premium quality fish sauce for the connoisseurs. It has a smooth, deep tone and has been aged to perfection. This Cognac-hue sauce does not have a pungent odor or lingering aftertaste like some inferior ones but a smooth, perfumery aroma. It is a preferred brand to many discerning chefs.
According to Kian Lam Kho of Red Cook, one of the easiest ways to boost the flavor of fried rice is to add a few tablespoons of fish sauce. Follow his simple recipe below.
Egg Fried Rice with Fish Sauce
3 cups of cooked white rice
1 red chili pepper thinly sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Flying Lion fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup chopped scallion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
This recipe is inspired by the traditional Chinese egg fried rice, which is commonly served at home to jazz up leftover rice. The addition of fish sauce creates a deliciously fragrant side dish that can accompany any Asian flavored dish. Using leftover rice is better because freshly cooked rice can be a little too moist to develop good caramelization.
Crack open the eggs and pour them into a bowl. Remove any stray eggshell and beat lightly. Set the egg aside. Heat the peanut oil in a wok at a high setting until just about smoking point. Put the chopped garlic in the wok and stir-fry for about one minute or until the garlic is slightly brown. Add the leftover rice and continue to stir-fry for about two minutes or until the rice is heated through. Break up any lumps of rice. Add the fish sauce and white pepper. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or so. Then push the rice to one side of the wok and pour the egg into the empty side and scramble until it becomes custardy. Mix the rice into the egg and add the sliced chili pepper. You may want to let the bottom of the rice caramelize slightly by not stirring too frequently. When the rice and the egg are slightly brown, or after about two minutes, add the scallion and cilantro. Quickly mix the rice with the garnish and put in a large serving bowl. Serve the rice hot with other dishes.