No Vietnamese cuisine (or should I say Asian cuisine) can go without fish sauce. It adds additional depth and flavour. So when I decided to go Paleo my first task was to look for a Paleo friendly fish sauce. Asian dishes without fish sauce is not the same. Trust me. Luckily I found one. Not only was it Paleo but it is MUCH better than the "Viet Huong 3 crab" most Asians would use. Better in both terms of taste and health. Now this only Paleo approved fish sauce is my secret ingredient. I use it in all my recipes, even western ones like Paleo Lasagna. It's a pantry must have.
History of Fish Sauce
In Vietnam fish sauce is called Nuoc Mam, Thailand (Nam Pla), the Philippines (Patis), Burma (Ngan Bya), Northern Malaysia (budu), Cambodia (teuk trei) Korea (aekjeot or jeotgal), and Japan (ishiru and shottsuru). It's not just a condiment but plays a vital role in flavouring Asian cuisine. In actual fact you may be surprised to hear that the Romans used a similarly fermented fish liquid called "garum" which appears in nearly 350 recipes in Apicius's classical Roman cookbook, "De Re Coquinaria". Pompeii later became famous for the production of fish sauce, and even now, a fish sauce called colatura remains a specialty of Cetara, a village on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, where locals toss it with pasta and garlic. [Ref#1]
The best of Vietnamese fish sauce comes from Phu Quoc
Despite consuming fish sauce from a young age I really didn't know much about the sauce until my recent research. Did you know there are different grades of fish sauce? Much like wine is to French people or olive oil is to the Italians, fish sauce is a prized staple in Vietnam. The best fish sauce are said to come from an island called Phu Quoc. The tradition of making fish sauce is handed down over generations. Fermentation are made in vats from indigenous trees that are now endangered and illegal to cut down. Having one of these vats is a prized commodity as the vats act like “oak to wine” and imparts a special flavor.
Premium fish sauce is defined by numbers that look much like the following: 40, 30, 20 and 15°N/L. The darkest-colored bottle is labeled 40°N/L and comes from the first extraction of liquid. The higher the number, the greater the concentration of fish protein. It's like your 'extra virgin' oil. The high protein content gives the sauce it a strong umami taste. The much talked about elusive fifth flavour. As the liquid is more concentrated, you do not need to use as much as traditional brands.
Red Boat vs other Brands
So after all the hype what brand are we talking about? Red Boat is the only fish sauce 100% approved by Whole9. You can read more about it here: http://whole9life.com/2012/06/red-boat-fish-sauce/. For full disclosure we do sell Red Boat on Wodnut. If you don't trust us, feel free to do your independent research.
Fish Sauce is just fermented fish so why is it not Paleo? Well, like many processed foods it's the things you do not see that makes it not Paleo. For example, many fish sauces have added fructose and sugar or hydrolysed wheat protein. The table below is a comparison of Red Boat and some common brands.
|Viet Huong 3 Crab||Megachef||Red boat|
|Water||Yes||No – First Press|
|hydrolysed wheat protein||Yes||No|
Like many Asians my parents used to use the Viet Huong (3 crabs) brand. It’s cheap and can be found in many Chinese grocery stores. Viet Huong combines Phu Quoc fish sauce with Thai fish sauce. It has a great taste except it does contain fructose and hydrolysed wheat. What makes it worst is, because it's a staple, you don't even think twice about looking at the ingredient list.
How to store fish sauce?
- If you use it often, keep it in a dark cupboard.
- If you seldom use it, refrigerate it and it will keep for months.
How to use Fish Sauce?
- Add to any stir fry.
- Add when making Bolognese sauce.
- Add to flavour chinese soup.
- Fish Sauce Condiment. My family makes the best fish sauce condiment. Recipe to come.
- Uses are endless.