Vietnamese traditional fish sauce

Like wine in France and olive oil in Italy, fish sauce is the prized staple of Vietnam, where it is used in soups and marinades or diluted into a sauce that accompanies foods from spring rolls to noodles. Fish sauce is the main ingredient for nuoc cham, a kind of dipping sauce that contributes to elevating Vietnamese cuisine. 

Vietnam fish sauce

Fish sauce has two ingredients: fish and salt. The first and most important step is to choose the fish. Anchovies or other tiny fish usually are used; larger, more expensive fish such as mackerel or sardines can be substituted but result in a costlier, less profitable product. The fish should be fresh, clean, and about the same size. On average, thirty to forty tons of fish yields about 10,000 liters of fish sauce. 

fish sauce
The next step is to ferment it with salt in a big vat. Making the sauce requires three parts of fish to one part of salt. The fish slowly breaks down over a process of about six months, and it's stirred every day. When the fish have broken down to a smoothie-like consistency, the solids will sink and the liquid will rise to the top.

Fish sauce

The "fish smoothie" is then transferred to baskets lined with cloth. The liquid drips out into a tub underneath. If you've heard of fish sauce being "pressed," that’s not the traditional Vietnamese method – there’s no pressing here, just straining. The liquid that's extracted will go on to become fish sauce; the leftover fishy solids will be sold as pig food.

The liquid extraction gets transferred to shallow ceramic bowls and laid out in the sun. The heat of the sun evaporates some of the water out and leaves behind the fish sauce. A salty crust on the surfaces means this process, which takes anywhere from 5 days to 4 weeks depending on the weather, is done.
After this the fish sauce moves to a ceramic urn or plastic barrel, where it ages for another month or two at least. It keeps up to three years, and the longer it sits, the lighter, sweeter, and less salty the flavor. The leftover solid chunks of salt can be re-used with a new batch of fish.

Vietnam fish sauce

The best of the best, as widely agreed among Vietnamese enclaves around the world, comes from Phu Quoc, a tropical island off the nation's southwest coast. In fact, the Phu Quoc name is so coveted and abused in the fish sauce industry that local producers have been working with the World Trade Organization to protect its appellation of origin.

In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce is also used as a base for a dipping condiment, prepared in many different ways in each country, for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken.

Besides the deep flavor, fish sauce also provides nutrients, with facts as shown below:

Vietnam fish sauce

During its production line, fish sauce is now encouraged to add fortified micro-nutrients for the sake of consumers' health.

Vietnam fish sauce

Now, let’s see how fish sauce is mixed with other ingredients that elevate consonant and flavorful taste of dishes.

Nuoc cham ngon
This sauce is a must for steamed snails

Dipping sauce
Dipping condiment for daily meal

Sources: the kitchn, red boat fish sauce

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