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Fish Sauce - do you make your own or have a favorite?

Hello All,
I have always enjoyed a good spicy fermented fish sauce with meats, etc. I first had it when we did a project to recreate a typical Byzantine meal. There are still quite a few producers of fish sauce in Asia, many of which are not exported to / imported by the US. Since it is hard to find any particularly good fish sauce, do any of you make your own or know of a better source / have a favourite? I have been experimenting with food fermentation in general and might like to try my hand again. The problem being apartment living. Fermenting the fish sauce at our hunt club in a pantry outside our meat lockers was easy enough but, in a codo complex the odors may present a problem...

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  1. I use the Three Crab brand Viet Huong fish sauce from Thailand most often. It is available in most Asian markets.
    Depending on what I am making, I may also use Korean dark fish sauce, or a light Japanese sauce.

    3 Replies
    1. re: hannaone

      I also like the Three Crab brand. I tried it based on Ming Tsai's recommendation.
      There's one with a squid on it that's pretty good. There are so many though...

      I don't think I'd have the patience to make it, it is stinky, and the premade is so cheap...

      1. re: Richard 16

        I think that's what I use, too. I just grab whatever. :) making it my own would make my neighbors unite and drive me out of my apartment...

        1. re: baekster

          I won't use Three Crabs except for cooking. It may taste ok, but it is made with hydrolyzed wheat protein which means the manufacturing was rushed, and it's not made in Thailand, it's actually finished in Taiwan. They add glutamates to Three Crabs to artificially enhance the flavor and probably add a carmel coloring too. My main reason for not wanting to use Three Crans is that I don't trust the company that makes it and it is overpriced compared to the other brands.

          Squid brand is about average and comparable to Tiparos. I will use both when nothing else is available.

          Far and away, my favorite Brand is Golden Boy. I grew up in Thailand and it is the most trusted brand of the people that actually live there.

    2. I also use the Three Crab brand (Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the Splendid Table also recommends this brand). I am Filipino and like this one way better than the ones my parents use.

      6 Replies
      1. re: seconds

        Not to quibble but isn't Three Crab brand an artificial or, at least, highly processed sauce with several additives? Perhaps this makes it more stable and easier to sell? We've tried several sauces before and after making our own (which was more like the roman garum or byzantine garon sauce) and several of those readily available sauces are good but, not sauces that would stand on their own or really wow us. Perhaps it's just an entirely different take on fish sauce - sardines (or other seafood) with salt and sugar as opposed to a more complex fermented sauce with spices and a bit more bite...

        1. re: vonwotan

          From the ingredients label:
          Anchovy extract, Water, Salt, Fructose, Hydrolysed Wheat Protein

          1. re: hannaone

            Sounds like a pretty bad ingredient list to me. Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein = sign of a bad fish sauce. Check your grocery store brand soy sauce vs. a nice authentic Asian soy sauce. The difference in terms of ingredients will probably be some kind of hydrolyzed protein in the ingredient list in your store brand versus soybeans, wheat, sugar, salt, and water in the good stuff.

          2. re: vonwotan

            I've noticed a lot of Koreans in LA using Three Crabs in certain dishes because of its sweeter taste.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Just curious, what dishes in Korean cuisine (not including banchan/kimchi) include fish sauce?

              1. re: Humbucker

                This may be pertaining to only my family as they use a lot of fish sauce -- but in addition to the banchan and kimchi, they used it in a lot of soups such as soybean sprout soup, yuk gae jang, chueotang. They liked the extra depth that fish sauce provided as opposed to soy sauce. btw, we didn't grow up with Three Crabs. We used Tipparos and switched to Squid later on.

          1. re: Romanmk

            Looks like another opportunity to have a tasting of sorts! I think I'll buy one Golden Boy, one Tra Chang and look around for a few more. Every once in a while we get together for tasings / competitions of sorts. The greatest thing about my ex was that were were both very competitive in the kitchen and spent a lot of time trying to outdo one another - with new dishes or to see who did the best job on old favourites...

            1. re: vonwotan

              You will probably like Golden Boy and Tra Chang. I like Golden Boy a bit more but both are very premium brands. Martha Stewart raved about Tra Chang on one of her shows and Martha Stewart Living Magazine, May 2006 issue listed Tra Chang as their best choice. I gave a bottle of Tra Chang (Because I knew I wouldn't use it if I had Golden Boy) to the owner of a Chinese restaurant that used Squid brand up until that point and he threw away what he had left of the squid. This Chinese restaurant owner makes all kinds of Asian cuisines and uses fish sauce in a small number of his preparations. He was amazed at the flavor. I know if I let him try my Golden Boy, he'll switch again.

              When I first moved back to the US from Thailand back in 1973, you couldn't get fish sauce anywhere. I missed that flavor terribly and lamented its loss. It took almost TWO decades before I finally found some crap brands that I was still very happy to get. The first real brand that became available was Squid brand, and it tasted MUCH better than the patis I had been using up until that point. I used that for a couple of years happily until Tiparos became available. I remember Tiparos being available in Thailand when we lived there, but our maids would not buy it for their tables. But it did taste slightly better than the Squid brand to me, so I used that one for years.

              When I first saw Golden Boy on the shelf at an Asian grocer, I was elated. I could not remember the brand name our maids used in Thailand but I remember it had a baby on it holding a bottle of fish sauce. When I saw the bottle, I bought all 3 that they had on the shelf. I now remember how really good this stuff was in Thailand. Never refrigerate this stuff and store it AWAY from light because light will make it darken, get opaque and start to taste very fishy - no matter WHICH brand you use.

              Everyone will have their favorites and I am not bashing anyone's brands. I just think that Three Crabs practice of rushing the fermentation and adding glutamates (that's why they add the hydrolyzed wheat protein - glutamates), using Anchovy EXTRACT and not fresh Anchovies and THEN charging more than anyone else does for their brands is asinine. So I won't buy it.

              1. re: vonwotan

                You can count me as another Golden Boy fan. The asian market where I buy it didn't have it the last time I was there though. Fortunately I have about a third of a bottle left, but I hope they get it back in stock soon.

                1. re: JonParker

                  Golden Boy rocks. I am down to my last bottle (though it is full) and the nearest Asian grocer that has it is almost 50 miles from here. I ordered 4 bottles online from Thailand yesterday. The shipping cost me more than the fish sauce, but 4 bottles will last more than a year and a half for me. I just keep them in a very dark spot and only keep the current open one in the pantry. I don't just use it for Thai food either.

                  Try this next time you cook a steak or beef:

                  Mix 4 tablespoons of fish sauce with a teaspoon of fresh lime juice and finely chopped FRESH (not dried) hot peppers. Spoon the mix over your steak instead of using salt and pepper. The taste is incredible.

                  1. re: JonParker

                    PS - add fresh minced cilantro to the steak Garum recipe I posted in addition to the fish sauce, chilies and lime juice. I add LOTS of cilantro to mine to where the garum is almost a paste.

                    You can add chopped garlic too if you want, but I don't myself.

              2. I know the one with the squid on it is really good, my mom uses it for everything. As for making it yourself, I think I'd be disgusted with the whole process if I had to make it myself and probably wouldn't eat it after that. Just buy it. There are something out there that you are just meant to buy and not make on your own

                1. "Cock" brand. "Product of Thailand" Ingredients: Achovy 68%, Salt 27%, Sugar 5%. Amusing label with a picture of squid, shrimp, crab, and a whole (non-anchovy) fish.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I have never tried Cock brand, but the shape of their small bottle looks VERY familiar to me so I know it was available in Thailand when I was a kid and it has been around for a long time. Do you like that brand? Is it easy to find where you live?

                    1. re: Cremon

                      I live one town over from Garland, Texas, and there is about a ten(?) block area that is basically "Downtown Saigon." There is a shoppping mall there that has everything Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, and about anything else you can think of.

                      Then there are several rather large Asian markets here in Plano as well. I suspect there's not much "Far Eastern" fare I can'f find if I set my mind to it.

                      I'm fairly new to using fish sauce though I've cooked Japanese and Chinese for years, so my opinion on how good it is is probably not worth the cyber paper it's written on. But this brand was recommended to me by the owners of a Vietnamese restaurant that USED TO BE right next to the mall. They had charcoal broiled lemon grass chicken that was to die for, with a dipping sauce that went with it. They recommended the Cock brand. And now they've closed... <sigh> I've heard they have a new restaurant at another location, but not the same menu. My experience is that when restaurants change locations, nothing tastes the same as it used to, so I haven't tracked them down.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I just ordered a 7 oz small bottle of Cock brand fish sauce to try from these people - http://shopwiki.com/detail/d=cock_bra... - I'll let you know what I think of it.

                        1. re: Cremon

                          Grreat! I look forward to hearing whether a connoisseur thinks what I'm using is good, bad, or indifferent. If my charcoal grill hadn't been stolen and still not replaced, I'd ask if you have a recipe for lemon grass chicken. Maybe this summer...

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            I tried the Cock brand of fish sauce today after it arrived via Fed Ex. I would rate it about average. It had more of a pungent smell than I am used to. The flavor was good, but it was saltier than the premium brands.

                            I will probably use it to cook with. I'll save the small bottles and refill them with Golden Boy for table use though. I do like the small bottles for portability. Having a big 23 oz bottle on the table is awkward.

                            And I am not above taking a small bottle of my own fish sauce into a Thai restaurant if I know they use an inferior brand. But the Cock brand tasted OK to me.

                            You might want to try Golden boy if you can get it where you are and give your thoughts.

                            1. re: Cremon

                              Thanks, Cremon. I've been hoping you wouldn't forget. And now I'm seriously wondering how strong their quality control is, because I have 24 ounce bottle and it doesn't seem all that salty to me. But to be perfectly honest, I don't find it all that exciting either. As I said before, I'm new to fish sauce.

                              Yesterday I made egg fu yung for breakfast and I do a lazy shortcut for sauce: a can of chicken broth, some conrstarch, usually some shoyu but this time I used fish sauce, and a little sesame oil. eh!

                              I will give Golden Boy a try. But from now on, I'm not buying 24 ounce bottles of ANYTHING I'm not fully familiar with! '-)

                              Thanks for your opinion!