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Jul 27, 2011 08:42 AM

Fish Sauce, do you find it overpowering?

I bought Three Crabs fish sauce and find it extremely strong. I see some recipes that call a tablespoon or more of the stuff and I just can't bring myself to put that much into the recipe. Does the super strong taste mellow out when mixed with other ingredients? I always scared I'm going to ruin a batch of food and have it end up tasting like fish sauce. The recipe I'm pondering now is this one:

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  1. I love it, but my boyfriend not so much so I often have to bring it to the table to use as added seasoning. I wouldn't say a tablespoon is that much, especial if you are cooking it down but it can depend on the other flavours. It's used instead of salt in a lot of far eastern cooking, so if there is salt I would go easy on the seasoning.

    That recipe sounds great - I do love a banh mi!

    4 Replies
    1. re: pj26

      Thanks. Keep in mind my "extremely strong" reaction is to tasting the fish sauce straight from the bottle so maybe I'm not giving it a fair chance.

      1. re: Rick

        Straight up, fish sauce can be an extremely strong flavor for someone not used to it. But bear in mind that heat mellows the flavor and smell, leaving behind a mouthfilling umami instead. Even when used raw as a dipping sauce, you usually find fish sauce mixed with citrus or vinegar and lots of herbs and seasonings.

        1. re: Rick

          Salt is pretty strong on its own, too. I'm not sure of the aversion to following a recipe using a small amount of a widely used ingredient.

        2. re: pj26

          That specific banh mi recipe is one of my favourite things - ever!! I make it as written, except I use mint instead of basil as I prefer the taste. I also leave out the jalapeƱos and sprinkle on some fresh bird eye peppers. Yum!!!

        3. Do you not like the taste or the smell? Three Crabs is considered 'premium' fish sauce. If you don't like the taste, then that's a major issue when making authentic Thai, Vietnamese, and other SE Asian recipes. It will blend in with all of the other ingredients in that recipe and the 'death smell' goes away. There are vegetarian 'fish sauce' substitutes out there. Don't know how they taste, probably similar to soy sauce.... Hang in there with the real stuff and make the recipe, I bet you're going to like it.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Maggie19

            It's the taste, it just tastes extremely fishy. This is my first every bottle of fish sauce so I wasn't sure what to expect. One recipe we have, a cold asian chicken salad, calls for 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, just seems to be way to much fish sauce for the relatively small amount of salad the recipe makes.

            1. re: Rick

              Any recipes with 3 tbls of fish sauce and soy sauce better be huge and contain tons of other ingredients because thats an awfully salty starting point.

              I love fish sauce, but contrary to what other people are saying, the only times I get offended by it are in cooked preparations. Sometimes a cooked dish has fish sauce added to it at the last minute and it is pungently salty and has a fishy aftertaste. This sort of thing happens at bad Thai or Vietnamese places. I always find it delicious when its used uncooked as part of a dipping sauce or marinade with sweet, spicy, and sour flavors to mingle with it.

            2. re: Maggie19

              I've been using Squid brand, and while the tase does help in the dishes where it's called for, the stench of year-old gym socks makes me want to cook those dishes less. I always feel like I've just ruined a good thing for about 3-5 minutes after adding. And god forbid is my wife or kid gets a whiff, because based on that alone they will refuse to eat the dish.

              Is Squid a decent brand?

              1. re: KevinKS

                I think Squid is a pretty good brand - it's what they sell in all the Vietnamese supermarkets here in London and I have been using it for years.

                1. re: pj26

                  I tried Squid once and thought it was terrible. I've heard that the premium version is not bad, but I don't remember which I had.

                  My brand of choice is Tra Chang. That plus a few chillies (sometimes also garlic, lime and sugar) is always on my table when I cook Thai. I love it spooned over rice.

            3. Try it in a stir fry or something first - something where it is added near the end of cooking. Add it in little bits to your taste. The overwhelming funk of it is mellowed by other ingredients. It is kinda meant to be standing up to other strong tasting ingredients.

              A tablespoon in that recipe sounds reasonable to me, but that's assuming one likes the effect of fish sauce in the first place. Your first experiments with it might be better if they were dishes where you could add it to taste.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cowboyardee

                Indeed. The first time I used fish sauce was in a recipe for tamarind shrimp. I came back from the Vietnamese grocery with all of these mystery-boxes covered in foreign characters. I had a Christmas joy in opening and tasting all of the new things. The tamarind was hideous and sticky, but surprisingly good. I smelled the fish sauce, frowned, hesitated, took sip, and spat. I think I would have cried if I ever got fish sauce for Christmas as a child. Only with great hesitancy did a spoonful of that foul mystery go into the dish.

                The final dish ended up tasting/smelling nothing like fish sauce, and it took me while to get a feel for what kind of effect fish sauce would have on a recipe.

              2. I see you are eating it straight from the bottle. Not traditional.... do try it in some cooked foods before giving up. From what I have read, that is how it is intended to be used.

                Oh.... and much like anchovies, there is nothing wrong with using fish sauce to YOUR taste. That is why we cook at home, right?

                1. You're not nuts. I don't like fish sauce straight, either, and when I cook with it, I always use less than called for and the food usually comes out fine. Any food that doesn't get eaten the first day (this includes take-out Thai as well as homemade) also gets sent home with someone else or pitched, because the fish sauce flavor seems to become more pronounced on the second day.

                  Lots of us find it too strong, but it's one of those things you really can't leave out of a recipe that calls for it, so just use less, then add a bit more if necessary.