Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Oct 10, 2010 10:28 AM

making sausage with fish sauce

I am a chef and have been stuffing my own sausage for a few years. This week I had to throw away a whole batch because it came out SO bad! I was make a pork sausage with scallion and ginger. Since it was leaning kind of asian, I thought fish sauce would work well. The sausage ground up and mixed great. Stuffing seemed fine as well. I hung the portioned sausage in the smoker and cook it for the usual 2 hours. When I opened the smoker I was surprised to see that some of the casings had split. When I squeeze one it was soft and mushy. I knew at that point I had a problem. I let them cool awhile and when I returned most had completely failed and were all over the bottom of the smoker. I removed what I could and tasted the filling. Chalky, mushy, disgusting. I actually gagged. So heres my question..what the hell happened? Is there an enzyme in fish sauce that breaks down proteins? Does anyone have experience in this area? I know I'll never use fish sauce in my sausage again, I just want to know why now.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I have made my version of thai sausage numerous times using pork, beef , and even chicken. Ive had no problems. Also, there are traditional southeastern asian dishes such as steamed pork balls etc that use fish oil. How much fish oil did you use? I add a tableapoon or 2 per 1.5 -2 pounds of protein. Its usually used , except as a dipping sauce, as a flavor enhancer. If smoking I usually smoke at least 4 hours at as low as heat I can get (125-150] . Is it possible something bad with casings?? I am curious and hope others have some ideas.
    Adding this on edit........I dont usually use onions in my smoked sausages .
    I may have an idea let me think awhile.......

    2 Replies
    1. re: celeryroot

      Fish Oil vs fish sauce?? I've never heard of fish oil (other than cod liver oil from Little Rascals shows). I used 1.5 cups to #20 pork. The casing was from a hank that was fine the batch before and after this incident. I use onions and scallions all the time. Ginger, however is another thing. This almost exactly same thing happened once before to me. I was also making a Thai curry sausage with fish sauce, coconut milk, ginger, garlic. scallions, cilantro. That time I used a poaching cooking method. When it came close to being fully cooked the casing fail and opened like a zipper. I thought at the time the problem was with the cooking method since I had little experience with it and it never happened in the smoker. Until now. So I have narrowed the culprit down to fish sauce or ginger. Fish sauce seems the most likely because, lets face it, who the hell knows whats in it? I have no idea, just know in small amounts it makes things taste good.
      On another subject, I would like to try low temp smoking but it seems I always need the sausage done so I can get wings done before service or Butts fired so the pulled pork is done at a reasonable hour the following day. Alas, such is life in the restaurant biz.

      1. re: chrisandbetsyc

        sorry I have no idea why I said oil
        Is it possible something has started to ferment??? Do you mix, stuff and asap smoke......or do you put in refridge for a period of time???? I think it is possible that the onions or ginger could start to ferment. Are you using pink salt??
        Fish sauce should just be fish ,water and salt where fish has fermented. I try and buy it made from anchovies.

    2. Chris,

      I've made Thai inspired sausages using fish paste with no problems (paste, not sauce, per se).

      I don't know what kind of fish sauce you used, but I made my own fish paste using the following ingredients:

      Fish Sauce (usually the Tra Chang brand)
      Boiled fish paste (usu. just cod or other cheap white fish like hoke or haddock)
      Chili flakes
      Diced onions
      Garlic, minced
      Lime juice

      I blend everything in a blender until it forms a nice pasty consistency and refrigerate overnight. Then I add this to my sausage mixture (usually pork, or a mixture of pork and chicken).

      Never had a problem.

      So I don't think the fish sauce, itself, is an issue. Now, maybe you got a bad bottle of fish sauce, or maybe your pork was bad, or something else.

      Bear in mind that there are alot of cheap fish sauces out there, some of which are made by the process of hydrolysis in which some kind of enzyme or acid is added to hasten fermentation. This may have been your problem. But using quality fish sauce, fermented properly, should not be a problem.

      By the way, I've also added Worcestershire sauce to my sausage mixture with no problems. So I can't imagine it's just the fermentation from the fish sauce as being the culprit.

      Hope that helps and good luck.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        but I do think a high sodium content and the heat could possibly cause the onion or ginger to ferment. The fact that fish sauce is made from fermenting fish is not material is the sodium content of the mixture . A high sodium content could cause fermentation of onion or ginger.
        Chris, did you add extra salt ? Ive notice that various fish sauces really vary on the sodium content and some are very high.

        1. re: celeryroot

          I have always used 'squid brand' fish sauce. It is a genuine Thai product that the chef I learned Thai cooking from used so I have just always stuck with it. No, I did not keep it overnight (though I often do, right now I have #30 of chorizo sitting in the walk in waiting to be stuffed tomorrow). It was ground, mixed stuffed and cooked all the same day. I did add a bit of Kosher because I didn't want the fish to overpower the ginger/garlic but thought it would need more salt. I don't think fermenting was the problem. I'm well aware of the signs of unwanted fermentation. I didn't see them. Doesn't seem like there would be time anyway. And high sodium levels? The finished product was gross and mushy but not overly salty. Actually the ginger and scallion flavor was there, just the texture made it unserveable. An enzyme added to the fish sauce I use seems to be my best lead at the moment. Besides making my own (and believe me, I'm ALL for making my own just about anything, but fish sauce...gotta draw the line somewhere. Ketchup, mayo and fish sauce. I just don't have the time!) what would ya'll recommend as a 'quality' fish sauce? Tra Chang.. I'll look for it.

          1. re: chrisandbetsyc

            I use Tra Chang . I looked at label and it has no additives.

            1. re: celeryroot

              Neither does the Squid Brand fish sauce.

              Looking more and more like it was a problem with the pork that the OP used. Odd, very odd.

          2. re: celeryroot

            I'm confused by this theory. Salt is a preservative that slows microbial activity. How could high sodium content lead to fermentation? Not having any experience in charcuterie, just based on my general cooking knowledge it is counterintuitive.

            1. re: babette feasts

              good point. high salt would inhibit, not help fermentation. But as I said, fermentation seems unlikely for many reasons.

              1. re: chrisandbetsyc

                No, it does not inhibit ,infact the opposite.The salt pulls water out of things like onions and ginger and creates an environment for fermentation. Look at sauerkraut.
                I would check with your local food inspection people but i think you maybe asking for trouble using fresh onion and ginger in the sausage ......the people II know making sausage commercially use dehydrated. Do I use at home ,yes but im doing all at once and if somethiing wrong id toss.

                1. re: celeryroot

                  I'm making fresh sausage that is used up in a week at the longest. From the the lack of a yeast inoculation, and the fact that the sausage is cooked (imediatly after grinding) to a temp over 150, I just think fermentation is highly unlikely. I'm pretty convinced its the fish sauce. Next time I want to make a Thai sausage, I will just use salt.
                  thanks a ton for the input

        2. What type of casings are you using?

          This is very perplexing...

          3 Replies
          1. re: meatn3

            I get my natural hog casings from my meat supplier. Same hank had fine results before and after this incident. Just used up the last of that hank today on a batch of chorizo that came out awesome. Same source of pork all along as well. Sustainable raised Vermont pork. Great product. Almost makes me want to do a little scientific elimination of suspects. Ginger/scallion/fish sauce. Maybe next week I'll hold aside a little ground pork and do a little expeiriment. I'll post any results I get if I do.

            1. re: chrisandbetsyc

              A simple experiment might be to just put a section of the casing in a jar with some of the fish sauce. If the sauce is having an enzyme reaction it should become apparent.

              This is very strange.

              1. re: meatn3

                thats a very good idea. I think i'll take it a step furthur and and mix some ground pork alone with fish sauce in one container, ginger in another and a control. should be able to report any results by this time next week.

          2. This is a long shot, but did your recipe include pineapple or papaya? That could turn the meat to mush even with lots of salt in the mix.