How to Use Fish Sauce

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Photo by: Johnny Miller

Johnny Miller

In Food Network Magazine, we occasionally make Southeast Asian-inspired recipes that call for fish sauce, like the Rice Noodle-Shrimp Salad (pictured above) in our June issue. This sauce is a staple of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and really the entire region, and is usually made from fermented anchovies. Sounds scary, we know, and it can smell scary, too — very pungent. But it can be surprisingly subtle and can add an astounding depth of flavor as well as authenticity to a dish. We’re lucky that we can now find fish sauce in the Asian section of most big grocery stores. But if you are lucky enough to live near an Asian market, you will likely see several different brands on the shelf, each of different origins and with its own subtly unique flavor.

In November of last year, right before we started developing our recipes for June, I had the good fortune of visiting Vietnam. The food, of course, was amazing. And while there, I was surprised to learn about the variety of fish sauces and fish sauce blends they used. The most common variety by far is nuoc cham: fish sauce diluted with water, sugar and lime juice, usually seasoned with garlic and fresh chilies. Not only is it delicious, but because its flavor is slightly more subdued, it is the perfect starting point for fish sauce novices. In the Rice Noodle-Shrimp Salad, I created my own version of nuoc cham as the salad dressing. It imparts tons of flavor to the rice noodles, but it’s also extremely versatile: It’s great as a dipping sauce for grilled chicken, for instance.

Here's the simple recipe:

Stir together 1/3 cup of fish sauce, the juice of 2 limes, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 cup water, half a thinly sliced jalapeno, 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 finely grated garlic cloves.

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