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Fish Sauce for sneaky umami effects

I splashed a tablespoon or so of Squid brand fish sauce into a pan of butternut squash I was mashing with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon. Wow, was it good! It rounded the flavor out unbelievably. Is anybody else using fish sauce as a secret weapon outside the Asian flavor palette?

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  1. i use it to doctor up all manner of soups.

    1. Me! I did, I did! Use it instead of salt, and many dishes will get compliments they never drew before.

      1. It's a great substitute for anchovies (but not bagna cauda) where it's a minor player: salad dressings, grilled veggies, BBQ.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Claudette

          I use it in dressings as well Claudette.

          1. re: scubadoo97

            I was inspired and made a rice vinegar-nut dressing yesterday with fish sauce that came out great! Good tip!

        2. I do that, too. Try it in Italian pasta sauces. Add a splash to your scrambled eggs. Good stuff, fish sauce.

          6 Replies
          1. re: luckyfatima

            There was a recipe in a recent issue of Saveur that used fish sauce in a bolognese recipe.


            And I also remember reading a couple of years ago about an Italian fermented fish sauce. Forgot the name.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Do you mean garam? The ancient Romans made different varieties of fish sauce from fermenting fish and shellfish much like how fish sauce is currently produced in Thailand and Vietname. Now you can see it as a condiment in high-end restaurants in Spain as well.

              When a Italian recipe calls for anchovies and I don't have any handy, Squid brand fish sauce comes to the rescue. I tell my dogmatic Italian friends afterwards and they always look at me in disbelief.

              1. re: mielimato

                I'm not sure. It was actually a brand name of a fish sauce as opposed to garam. It was in Saveur's Top 100 best things of the year, and was published about 2 - 3 years ago. If anybody knows or remembers, I'd appreciate it.

                1. re: mielimato

                  I don't think anyone knows for sure just what garam tasted like, but from all indications it indeed was much like nam pla or nuoc mam, the fish sauce used in Thailand, Vietnam and all the southeast asian region.

                  1. re: Brian S

                    It's just such beautifully basic stuff, now as then, which relates to its flexibility as a foundational accent.

                    A few old writings on ancient garum production:





            2. It is perhaps one of the most surreptitious and delightful components of the secret arsenal.

              I learned long ago never to advertise its presence in a dish, nor even to disclose it as an ingredient until a series of screening questions assured me that the inquirer could "handle the truth". It's funny how lots of folks have a fundamental problem with the idea of fermented fish.

              It's manufacture and production is a basic and very old technique, as in this video:


              1 Reply
              1. re: FoodFuser

                People can be so squeamish: my hubby never wants to know what's in anything (he's "very uptight WASP that way" - his words). He was shocked to learn that creme brulee was made with eggs & cream! I asked him what he thought it was made with, and he said he was clueless (I could have told him that!).

              2. while I wouldn't call it "outside the Asian flavor palette", an unexpected use of fish sauce is the Epicurious "Fooproof Grilled Chicken" recipe. It's damn good, my husband was still raving when he ate the leftovers last night. i see no reason to mention fish sauce even though he's not a squemish eater. just let him think I'm a genious.

                1. When trying to recreate Grandma's homemade chicken soup. I think she used some kind of flavour & colour enhancer and the fish sauce replaces that quite nicely.

                  1. i've used it in gumbo, chowders and seafood stews with great results.

                    1. Yes.

                      But honestly I think good soy sauce works just as well.

                      Soy sauce is a bit of a restaurant trick

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        Yes. Years ago on a whim I put some in a tomato sauce I was making for spaghetti and have used it ever since. Half a tablespoon or a tablespoon. Good in sauteed onions too. Of course you have to use a good brand. Kikkoman is satisfactory if nothing better is available.

                        By the way, this thread was selected for the four reprinted in the weekly chow digest, that's how I found it.

                        1. re: Brian S

                          Interesting. Many moons ago, when I was in college, I was using jarred spaghetti sauce and found the brand my housemates had bought too sweet. I don't know what made me throw in a bit of Worcestershire sauce, but that helped hugely. Same principle, I guess, since Worcestershire has anchovies, among other other things.

                        2. re: C. Hamster

                          Soy sauce gives a nice depth of flavor. I've used it in may non Asian dishes

                        3. I use it in salad dressings and various vegetable dishes, when I think of it. If you use the right amount - not too much - it really does add a lot of flavor without really being noticeable (i.e., fishy-tasting).

                          1. Yup, works great in most Italian dishes, anywhere where I would've used anchovies or anchovy paste. It's also a lot easier to use and store than anchovies.

                            My wife hit the roof the first time she saw me using it in minestrone. All happy when she ate the soup, though.

                            1. Can anybody recommend a good brand of fish sauce? One that doesn't taste/smell too fishy.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: FallsChurch2

                                Here is a recent thread on the subject. There are others if you want to search a bit.


                              2. A malaysian friend told me that she puts it in scrambled eggs - substitute for salt. I was curious, so I tried it, and I've been doing it ever since!

                                1. So how much fish sauce do you use?????

                                  I've known for years that it can give sneaky umami effects but I have been scared to use it because if you use to much it will taste like... well, like fish sauce... which I like splashed on rice but which sends most people I know running for the nearest sink.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Brian S

                                    Start with a very small amount (actual amount will depend on the volume of what you are cooking, but let's say 1 tsp in pasta sauce for 4, as an example) then taste. Add a tiny bit more, taste the difference. Gauge from there.

                                    This is one of those things where you will really have to rely on your own tastebuds in a given dish, rather than getting a standard amount. I've never tried it in scrambled eggs (but will soon after the raves here!) but I'd imagine that would be just a dash, since eggs are so mildly flavored. Whereas tomato sauce could synthesize a whole lot more fish sauce.

                                    1. re: Pistou

                                      Thank you. But the trouble with doing that is that your taste buds get accustomed to the taste, so by the third time you taste it, you will think there is much less fish sauce flavor than there really is, and will mistakenly add more sauce.

                                      1. re: Brian S

                                        I've gotten good results with two teaspoons in tomato sauce sufficient for a pound of spaghetti. People who normally ignore the spaghetti and pick at the salad ignored the salad and finished the spaghetti.

                                        This post was just named one of the top ten posts of 2008.

                                  2. Hi All,

                                    A bit off topic but does anyone know if fish sauce goes bad? I have a bottle sitting in my pantry which must be at least 8 years old and I'd like to use it. Is it supposed to smell like that?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                      Treat yourself to a new bottle, via the threads of "best fish sauce".

                                      Reserve the old bottle for that time in the near future when you are ready to evaluate its changed bouquet. It's usable, but will have a darker color and higher histamine count, and is best reserved for long cooking.

                                      The new bottle will allow you to travel easier into this new corner of umami.

                                      1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                        it stinks when it's fresh. It's one of those ingredients that really smells bad but taste good in a dish. If you think fish sauce smells bad try shrimp paste. You can clear a room pronto with that stuff but could you make a Thai curry paste without it?

                                      2. I use it for almost everything. An aside. I always ask guests ahead of time about food allergies. If you don't, you might ask if you are using it in dishes a guest would not normally expect to include fish. Actually, asking ahead about any allergies does preclude the "Ewwww" factor. But then, we don't invite these people anyway.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Sinicle

                                          Hi Folks - we've removed some posts about the propriety of using fish sauce/anchovies when serving vegetarians or guests who might have allergies. If you want to discuss those topics, there are plenty of threads on the topics of hosting vegetarians and/or those with allergies on the Not About Food board. Please help us keep this board focused on cooking and recipes.