A Chef’s Secret Weapon: Fish Sauce

When a recipe needs some “seasoning, umami, flavor”, what’s near your cooktop? Salt, soy sauce?  Maybe, but If you’re a trendsetting American chef, you reach for the fish sauce.

Whether called nuoc man -Vietnamese for fish sauce- or nam pla (Thai translation), fish sauce is extracted from salted and fermented fish (think anchovies) and has been traditionally used in Southeast Asia but also in Korea, China and Japan.  However, American chefs are adding fish sauce to their flavor arsenals and are reaching for the fish sauce instead of the saltshaker for that extra layer of flavor in their dishes. We more than agree that fish sauce is the next “it” ingredient to knock kale off its ingredient throne. “You don’t necessarily see it on menus as an ingredient, but almost every chef I know — no matter what cuisine — has fish sauce in the kitchen,” says Chef Andy Ricker, of Portland’s PokPok, who has been using fish sauce for decades in his Asian cuisine. “They use it to season. It gives this immediate boost of umami.”1

 You had us at umami

At Nikken, fish sauce speaks our umami language, as it’s a natural flavor enhancer that adds complexity to a variety of dishes, even non-Asian recipes. Try adding some fish sauce to your canned tomatoes when making a favorite spaghetti sauce, Caesar dressing or chicken noodle soup recipe and watch the flavors explode. We promise you will like it.

With that in mind we developed a  Spicy Asian Dipping Sauce starring none other than fish sauce powder and ramped up with sambal oelek, ginger and garlic. Serve with a favorite pot sticker or spring roll and you have a flavor-packed appetizer or light meal.

Did we have YOU at umami? Click here for a sample of our fish sauce powder.

Fish Sauce Tips:

  • To get over fish sauce’s pungency, take a whiff of dried porcini mushroom and compare it to that of the condiment. They’re very similar. That’s the umami talking.
  • Experiment by substituting fish sauce for anchovies in your favorite Caesar dressing.
  • Try adding fish sauce to a salted caramel sauce.  It enhances the buttery, sugary notes.
  • Combine a little fish sauce with grated Parmesan and sprinkle on your pizza or add it to your alfredo sauce for big umami flavor.
  • Add fish sauce slowly to foods. Start with a small amount because you can always add more.