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Fish sauce is that magical ingredient that may sound odd, but is in fact incredible. It is typically synonymous with Southeast Asian cooking, but can be used in so many different dishes to add a rich, savory flavor.
Reading: how to use thai fish sauce
What is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is actually fish fermented in salt. Hence the name. It is actually from fish. Anchovies to be exact (at least most often – there are some exceptions). Basically anchovies (or other small fish) are packed in salt then left to ferment.
While the smell may be strong (I like it), the taste is deep and rich and adds so much flavor to anything it’s used on.
Where to Buy Fish Sauce
I’ve noticed a lot of chain grocery stores are actually carrying it now. That said, I’m typically not a fan of the brands they carry (at least the ones I’ve seen).
If you have access to an Asian grocery store or market, they typically carry many different brands. You can also buy it on Amazon or online at 99 Ranch Market.
The Best Fish Sauce
Here are some of the better recommended brands. The below may contain Amazon affiliate links which means I earn a commission if you buy through them.
- Red Boat 40 Fish Sauce: This is my go-to brand. Made with just plain black anchovies and salt, it has the best flavor. It has a deep, rich flavorful taste to it. While it’s a little more expensive than the others, it’s totally worth it.
- Squid Brand Fish Sauce: This is a good alternative to Red Boat, but tends to have a saltier taste and the flavor is not quite as deep. Will still work in a pinch.
- Three Crabs Fish Sauce: This is not my favorite as I find the flavor a bit flat, however, many others actually like and prefer this brand so I wanted to include it.
- Flying Lion Fish Sauce: The flavor on this is decent in a pinch and the price is typically quite good.
- Blis: Now this is not regular fish sauce as it is aged in charred barrels for months, giving it a smoky flavor. While not typical fish sauce, it is an incredible condiment to have to add some flavor to dishes (think BBQ).
How to Use Fish Sauce
It is way more versatile than you might think. In addition to Thai and Vietnamese cooking, fish sauce can actually be used in everyday cooking as well to add a boost of flavor.
Contrary to what you may believe, it does not add a fishy flavor to food. It adds a deep savory (umami) flavor. Here are 20+ ways to use fish sauce in your everyday cooking:
1. Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
When we think of fish sauce here in the US, we often think of the Vietnamese dipping (or Nuoc Cham) served in Vietnamese restaurants. Made with fish sauce, sugar, chilies and lime, this sauce is ubiquitous with Vietnamese food. Learn how to make Nuoc Cham.
It’s often used in marinades for Vietnamese dishes like Bun Thit Nuong (Vietnamese grilled pork) and Lemongrass Beef. It can also be used in other marinades like these Fish Sauce Wings.
3. Thai Dipping Sauce
While the Vietnamese dipping sauce is more well know, this Thai Dipping Sauce is just so incredible. Commonly served as a dipping sauce for meat and chicken, it can also be used for sticky rice and vegetables. It is SO GOOD.
I know this may seem strange, but when just a teaspoon or two is added to salsa, it really amps up the flavor. Try this Green Salsa to see what I’m talking about.
5. Barbecue Sauce
A couple teaspoons of fish sauce in a barbecue sauce will just make the flavor scream YUM. You can also use it in a Thai barbecue sauce like these Thai BBQ Pork Spare Ribs.
6. Curry Paste
Most Southeast Asian style curries include fish sauce in the curry paste. If you plan to make your own curry pastes (which I do highly recommend for the best flavor), you’ll definitely be using it. Here are some recipes for making your own curry paste:
- Red Curry Paste;
- Yellow Curry Paste;
- Green Curry Paste.
7. Use in Place of Salt
Now obviously you’re not going to use it to sprinkle on everything as you would salt (or would you??), but fish sauce can be used as a substitute for salt in many cases. Using it on vegetables, in salad dressing, on chicken and in sauces in place of salt helps to greatly reduce the amount of sodium you are ingesting, as well as adding that extra rich flavor.
8. Sautéed Vegetables
Using it in sautéed vegetables is a great way to add some flavor. Just add a couple teaspoons (adjust it to taste of course) with some pepper, butter, chilies, etc. Try a touch with this Sautéed Baby Bok Choy.
9. Salad Dressing
A salad dressing with a touch of fish sauce added (maybe 1-2 teaspoons) is so amazing. I would recommend using in place of salt in vinaigrette dressing. Or just try this Vietnamese Salad Dressing.
10. Pasta Sauce
It is a great addition to a Bolognese, just add a couple teaspoons and it adds a beautiful savory flavor. It’s also great in this Homemade Marinara Sauce, an Alfredo Sauce, Puttanesca or Carbonara.
You can make some traditional Vietnamese Pickles, or just use 1-2 tablespoons in your favorite pickle recipe.
12. Carne Asada
I know we already mentioned using it in meat marinades. But I wanted to re-iterate. Use it in your carne asada marinade. Just add a a few teaspoons. (try this Carne Asada if you don’t already have a favorite).
13. Grilled Vegetables
Similar to using it on sautéed vegetables, it’s also great on grilled vegetables (like this grilled summer squash). Drizzle them with olive oil and fish sauce before adding them to the grill. You can also do this with roasting vegetables. Try 1-2 teaspoons on this Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower.
14. Dipping Sauces
In addition to the Nuoc Cham and Thai dipping sauces discussed above, you can also use it in everyday sauces like this Thai Peanut Sauce, Chimichurri Sauce or even Turkey Gravy. Just add a teaspoon or two and you’re ready for flavortown!
15. Fried Rice
Add a teaspoon or two of fish sauce to this Chinese Fried Rice, Kimchi Fried Rice or even this Breakfast Fried Rice for an extra boost of flavor.
16. Bloody Marys
Yes, a touch of fish sauce in your bloody mary just brings it to the next level. Not too much, try just ½ a teaspoon and add more if desired.
A little used in homemade chili goes a long way to add flavor. Try a couple teaspoons in this Instant Pot Beef Chili or this Instant Pot Turkey Chili. It would also be great in Chili Verde like this one.
18. Stocks and Broths
Fish sauce can add flavor, depth and richness to your homemade stocks and broths. Try 1-2 tablespoons in this Chicken Bone Broth or Slow Cooker Beef Broth.
Meats, vegetables, fish, etc. Adding a touch to the braising liquid adds depth and flavor. Try it with these Braised Short Ribs, Braised Oxtails, Braised Chicken or Braised Brussels Sprouts.
20. Soups & Stews
Fish sauce is commonly used to make soups like Vietnamese Pho, tom yum soup and curry noodle soups. In addition, I use it in this Instant Pot Ramen, as well as this Thai Curry Ramen.
You can also add a touch of it to any of these already awesome recipe to add incredible flavor:
- French Onion Soup;
- Tortilla Soup;
- Wonton Soup;
- Chicken Noodle Soup;
- Tortellini Soup;
- Lasagna Soup.
21. Cole Slaw
Yes, it can be amazing used in cole slaw. Asian inspired cole slaws have such a wonderful flavor. Try some of these recipes:
- Asian Slaw;
- Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad;
- Spicy Korean Coleslaw.
So guys, be creative. Go out and start using fish sauce! Come back and leave a comment on this post to let me know how you used it – I love to hear your creations!