Fish Sauce: Your Secret Umami Weapon
You may think that anything that smells this bad can't possibly taste good, but au contraire my friends. Just think - onions, garlic, blue cheese, egg salad... some of the smelliest ingredients are also the tastiest! If you can get past the aroma, fish sauce might be your new best friend.
The Fifth Taste - "Umami"
Often found in Asian cuisines, fish sauce adds a depth of flavor to foods that really makes you want more. This flavor is described as the fifth taste or "umami" - a savory tastewhich was only recently recognized by Americans and joined the likes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. I often equate it to the taste of a garden fresh picked tomato sprinkled with a little salt. The lingering flavor that hangs on the back of your tongue is umami.
Where to Find Fish Sauce
Today most grocery stores and specialty markets carry fish sauce in the same aisle you would find soy sauce. If you are like me however, and choose to do most of your specialty food shopping online, I recommend importfood.com and thaikitchen.com.
How Is Fish Sauce Made?
The powerful umami flavor of fish sauce is not easy to acquire without cheating and using the notorious MSG food additive. There are a few natural ingredients that give you this coveted flavor, fish sauce being the most common.
It varies slightly from brand to brand, but basically, fish sauce is a potent concoction of fish and salt that has been fermented for at least 1 year. (The longer it ferments, the less fishy it tastes, the more umami the flavor.) On it’s own, the strong flavor of fish sauce makes it virtually unpalatable, but then you wouldn't eat it alone or use a lot. In small doses, fish sauce enhances stir-fry, Thai noodles, and a host of other dishes.
How to Use Fish Sauce
My belief has always been that in order to be a really good cook, one must learn to cook with reckless abandon, which that means stepping outside the norm and thinking of new ways to use ingredients.
With this in mind, knowing that fish sauce is mostly used in Asian cuisine, I have decided to stray completely from the status quo and add it to my Italian pasta sauce! Tomato-based pasta sauce has a umami flavor all its own, but when fish sauce is added to the mix, you have one heckuva knock-your-socks-off sauce! By using a bit of fish sauce in your food, you can round out the flavors without adding as much salt/sodium.
No one will know why the dish is so deliciously addictive. ;)