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Best Fish Sauce

I am completely clueless about fish sauce. I want to try a recipe for Shaking Beef and it calls for fish sauce. What brand should I purchase? I want to make sure it is non-GMO.

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    1. I'm a fan of Tiparos, and Red Boat's products.

      I preferentially use Tiparos as an ingredient where it's being used in a flavour blend, and Red Boat for any application where it's being used as a dominant note or stand alone. Tiparos tastes slightly weaker/blander to me, but is vastly cheaper than Red Boat.

      Both of these are products that contain water, anchovy, salt and sugar. While neither is explicitly labelled GMO free, there are no GMO anchovies that I'm aware of.

      EDIT: I've also used Megachef, which is strongly linked with David Thompson (of Nahm Bangkok, and the almost religiously-followed (for very good reason) Thai Food/Thai Street Food books). It's very good sauce, but not as good as Red Boat, IMO - this is splitting hairs.

      1. My short answer is: any brand of sauce will do for this dish.

        But, to fend off those who think I am cavalier about ingredients, I'll say I've tried many fish sauces and, as with soy sauces, I find that I like to keep two or three types around.

        Red Boat is the richest, fullest, roundest sauce I've had. It is, however, sometimes a little "darker" (like in a molasses direction relative to refined white sugar) than I want for certain preparations.

        For a dipping sauce, I like Three Crabs. It's lighter and brighter and my preference for uncooked preparations.

        I also try various other sauces. IMO: when you have a cooked preparation involving a tablespoon or two of the stuff, brand is not important. Avoid any unaccountably cheap bottling, and you'll be fine.

        1. Sugar is the ingredient I am worried about. Cane sugar is fine, beet sugar (most sugar) is not. I think, though, if the sauce is made in another country it is far safer to assume there are no GMOs, as compared to being made in THIS country, where unless it specifically says, "organic", "non-GMO" or "cane sugar" it is assuredly GMO.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chezron

            If purity is your concern: Red Boat might suit you best. Just anchovies and salt. I think all major brands have at least a bit of sugar.


          2. Ming Tsai harped endlessly on Three Crab fish sauce being the best on his old show East Meets West, so that's what I use and haven't bothered trying anything else.

            1. I have 3 brands in my kitchen.

              Tiparos, Squid and Three Crabs.

              I find Red Boat too mild. But I love the fishiness of FS.

                1. re: ferret

                  It’s interesting that Megachef is rated so poorly at that link. It’s recommended by Andrea Nguyen who says it’s a favorite of “Thai uberchef” David Thompson. I’ve seen it at a local Asian supermarket here for less than half the price of Red Boat. I bought a brand called “9999” last month, a premium 40°N sauce which was a tad less expensive than Red Boat, but I believe to be just as good.

                  Andrea Nguyen on Megachef:



                  Whatever you do, don’t buy fish sauce at Whole Foods. In comparison to the Asian markets, the WH bottle of Red Boat was more expensive for a bottle which was half the size.

                  Next time I’m down at Hong Phat here in Portland, I’ll check the Megachef bottle to see if it lists added sugar and fructose as ingredients. The 9999 brand doesn’t list any added sugars.

                2. Maybe i am missing something, but i doubt sugar was in the original recipes for fish sauce. Did they even have sugar so long ago?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chezron

                    My belief is that some fish sauces are more appropriate as a cooking ingredient, others more suited to use in dipping sauces, so they may have sugars or other ingredients added. Different cuisines also prefer sweeter finished dishes, so added sugar would be looked upon as a benefit.

                    What I'd really like to see is a site compare which brands are best suited for what types of recipes/cuisines they'd be used in, rather than simply rating them on basic taste. I think that'd be a much more informative way to compare brands.

                    1. re: chezron

                      Fish sauce (nuoc mam) and its Italian cousin garum were always just anchovies and salt. Over time people have modified versions to appeal to different palates.

                    2. 3 Crabs, there is nothing better

                      1. Not sure there is such a thing as guaranteed non-GMO fish sauce.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Sure there is, if the ingredients are only anchovies and salt -- guaranteed non-GMO

                        2. So I go to Whole Foods because they normally sell Red Boat, and they were out! I didn't feel like wading through rush hour traffic to go to another store, so I used the oil from a jar of anchovies. I was making Shaking Beef and bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. It turned out well. Since I don't know what fish sauce tastes like, I have no idea if this was a dumb idea or not.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: chezron

                            Glad it turned out well.

                            The oil from anchovies is tasty. I use it in salad dressing. But it doesn't taste much like fish sauce.

                            Fish sauce is a pretty amazing condiment that adds hidden umami to loads of savory dishes. It's a great thing to have in the pantry.

                            1. re: chezron

                              "Since I don't know what fish sauce tastes like, I have no idea if this was a dumb idea or not."
                              I'm always of the opinion that improvising with what you've got on hand is never a dumb idea - even if it doesn't work out the way you expected, you can discover a new flavor combination/way of preparing things that you like.
                              Since you had no preconceived idea of what the taste was, I can't see how it would matter if you ended up liking the results and as C. Hamster says, canned anchovy oil is tasty. But fish sauce is indeed a delicious and unique condiment and you're cheating yourself if you don't buy a little bottle and find out for yourself. We use Red Boat and Three Crabs ourselves.

                            2. 3 crabs if i'm looking for a distinct fish sauce flavor. otherwise i use red boat as more of a table sauce to add a splash of flavor to any dish

                              1. Do a search on this board. I think I asked the same question awhile back, and the same three brands seem to remain consistent in recommendations.

                                1 Reply
                                1. On just plain fish, nothing beats dill seasoning and olive oil.

                                  I spoke too soon. I misunderstood the original post, lol.
                                  I have no clue about "fish sauce" either.

                                  1. You've gotten some good advice here.
                                    Red Boat if you can find it. I think it is the best available in the US.
                                    Three Crabs second, Megachef third.

                                    Just like so many other things, there are differences in fish sauces from manufacturer or countries of origin. I find the Thai and Philippines style fish sauces to be too fishy, so I tend to stay away from Tiparos. (Others swear by it.)

                                    Vietnamese fish sauces seem to have more umami than others, and are not overbearing in their flavor. This is the basis of my recommendations for fish sauce.

                                    The Red Boat tastes more like the fish sauces I have had and purchased in Vietnam.

                                    I suggest giving several a try and seeing which one you prefer.

                                    As for GMO content, to be honest I wouldn't worry about that.

                                      1. By necessity, all fish sauce has a lot of salt, but there's a wide range of sodium content from brand to brand. This thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/749330
                                        charts it. I've always used Tiparos, since I recognize the label on many a cooking show, and was glad to see that it has the least salt.