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Jun 18, 2012 07:42 AM

Colatura and Asian Fish Sauce: what's the dif?

I've read about colatura, Italy's liquid essence of anchovy. It sounds great, but I've never seen it on sale in any of the Italian specialty stores around Boston. I know it's available online, but before I take the plunge and buy it, I have to ask if and how it is different than Asian fish sauce, which is far cheaper and for all I know, may be pretty much the same thing, aside from the country of origin of the anchovies.

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  1. They are essentially the same, except Thai fish sauce is diluted to about 20% when bottled, which explains the price difference.

    13 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      So would it work if I were to take an Italian recipe and used 5X the amount of fish sauce instead of the colatura? If so, it would be a great way to use up the big bottle of fish sauce in my cupboard!

      1. re: katzzz

        Um, no.

        5x the fish sauce = 5x the liquid.

        If, for example, you were making an Italian sauce calling for Colatura and used 5x the fish sauce, you'd end up with .... soup.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          It seems that SE Asian fish sauce is made from anchovies, like colatura, but colatura has a lower salt content. Other Asian fish sauces -- like Japanese -- are not necessarily made from anchovies.

          1. re: roxlet

            I have never heard of Japanese fish sauce, except for something quite rare called "shottsuru". Is this what you are talking about, Roxlet?

          2. re: ipsedixit

            The recipe's I've seen using colatura call for small amounts, like a tablespoon. I'm thinking that it would be easy to cook down a larger quantity of Asian fish sauce without getting soup.

            1. re: katzzz

              But I think there'd be the salt factor...

              1. re: roxlet

                Speaking for myself, I use fish sauce in just about everything, including Italian red sauces. Never had any problem with saltiness or excess liquid as a result; I think those things are easily resolved in the normal process of adjusting quantities as the dish is prepared.

                Is Colatura essentially what used to be known as garam, and has been used since the Romans at least?

                  1. re: ela_tarantella

                    To be technical, Colatura is analagous to ONE TYPE of Garum. The Romans had many differen formulae for Garum, varying in spices, type of fish used and method of preparation. There were fish based ones made like coloratura from the drainage of curing anchovies. There were ones based on seafoods other than fish, In fact, "Garum" is the old Roman word for shrimp, from the Greek (Garides), They didn't start using the word "squilla" or "scillia" till a bit later. Some only used the innards of the fish, or only the heads. All coloratura is garum, but not all garum is coloratura

                    1. re: ela_tarantella

                      As luck would have it, my wife is returning from Italy with a bottle of colatura for me. I'm eager to use it and also to compare it with Vietnamese/Thai fish sauce. I'll report back, but may take a couple of weeks (my wife won't let me cook pasta for dinner every day, as much as I might like to!).

                      1. re: katzzz

                        Def let us know! Where in Italy did she get the colatura?

                        1. re: katzzz

                          Sveral styles of Asian fish sauces are made from the salted heads, entrails, frames of fish, fermented and pressed to get the flavorful fish oil, then diluted.
                          Colatura is the run off of salted anchovies in the curing process. For my taste, Colatura, Garum, is more pleasing when added to certain seafood pasta dishes, or on its own with a simple Olio e Basilica Spaghetti prep.

                          1. re: katzzz

                            You can buy it at Eataly !! No need to fly abroad

            2. I read that Colatura has a milder flavor than Asian fish sauce; this matches my experience. I would taste the dish at a less than 1 part Asian fish sauce substitution, then work up if desired. I would absolutely not make a reduction or increase the amount of sauce...

              1. Colatura is not like nam pla or other Asian fish sauces. Please don't use nam pla to substitute! Colatura is a highly refined flavor and, while made from fish and having the ability to add a depth of flavor to dishes, that's where the similarity ends. I haven't experimented with it, because it is best used simply with pasta or vegetables. I wouldn't put it in a sauce (that's what anchovies are for!). Once you taste it, you'll recognize the difference. I buy it at a local Italian specialty store in Brooklyn where the price varies depending on brand. The last time I bought it, the old Italian guy behind the counter smiled and sighed and said "it's like cognac". There you go.