What Is Fish Sauce, Actually?

When you want a sauce that gives you pure savory, umami flavor, you need fish sauce, baby. Push those other condiments to the side and get to know this versatile wonder that’s a staple in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine. Fish sauce is the liquid that results from the fermentation of small fish and salt, and despite that potentially unappetizing description, it must be tasted to be believed. Let’s learn more about this truly wonderful stuff. 

What is fish sauce made of?

Most modern fish sauces officially contain just fish and salt! The fish used are typically anchovy, shrimp, or mackerel, but really any oily fish with a strong flavor will work. Some store bought varieties add herbs and spices, which is by no means necessary, but who are we to get in the way of experimentation? 

How is fish sauce made?

To make fish sauce, you mix fish and salt at a ratio of 1:3 and then leave it to ferment for 3-12 months. After around the 4-6 month period, liquid starts to form within the fermentation tanks. Lo and behold, this special substance is fish sauce. 

Is oyster sauce the same as fish sauce?

Though they are both alike in that they are decidedly maritime in nature, fish sauce is much, well, fishier than oyster sauce. Plus, oyster sauce is made from oysters (not anchovies or mackerel or shrimp). If you want to know more, check out our explainer that answers the question, “What is oyster sauce?

What does fish sauce taste like?

If you can believe it, fish sauce has a distinct, pungent fish taste. Many describe it as “funky.” However, many believe that the fishiness is offset by a sweetness. It’s a hard flavor to capture in words. Let us know how you describe it in the comments. 

Is fish sauce gluten free?

The only way to guarantee that your fish sauce is gluten free is to check the bottle. Depending on the brand and the facility where it was produced, fish sauce can be made gluten-free, but also may NOT be gluten-free. All it takes is a glance at the bottle, so be sure to fit that into your schedule. 

How to use fish sauce?

Fish sauce is tremendously versatile and, in many ways, it’d be simpler to list the ways you can’t use it! Fish sauce is great in vinaigrettes, it’s good for braising and marinating meats, adding to soups and pasta sauces, using as a moistening agent in your stir-fry, and just putting a bunch in a Solo cup and handing it to an unsuspecting marathon runner to see their reaction. Since it is such a pungent flavor, though, a little goes a long way. So, don’t go overboard. 

How long does fish sauce last?

Pretty darn long! Once opened, a bottle of fish sauce can last around two to three years, and sometimes even longer. 

Does fish sauce go bad?

Fish sauce can deteriorate in quality over an extremely extended period of time, which could result in discoloration and an off taste. 

In conclusion: Fish sauce is pretty darn great. It’s not every sauce that can handle being a salad dressing, a pasta sauce, and a meat braise all in the same breath. In fact, being a fish sauce is up there with “brain surgeon” and “single parent” as “toughest job in the world.” Make sure to salute the bottle the next time you see one.

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *