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Bad/good/best Fish Sauce


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#1 Wil

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 07:58 PM

Ok, I've got a question for the foodie empire here (and forgive me if it's been asked before...I searched...)


I love cooking with fish sauce. However, when I buy fish sauce I have to choose pretty much at random from what seems like about a hundred brands and types (you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike). Yes, there are some differences....anchovy extract, other ingredients, salt content ranging from 25% to 80% (wow), but I wind up buying one mostly at random because I really don't have any good way to judge any of the damn things....there are too many, and often the labels (for what they're worth) are in other languages. You can find me on the floor of An Dong, squinting at the tiny, pastel print on bottle after bottle.


Has anyone got any favorites....any way of telling the good from the bad, the flavorful from the merely salty, the ones produced with care to the ones churned out with no quality whatsoever? Right now I've just started a bottle of Filipino fish sauce that seems to have no flavor at all, and I'm going to have to toss it and pick another brand and hope for the best---just shooting in the dark.


I love the salty, fishy, umami goodness of fish sauce, but I don't want to kill myself with the level of salt either, and I want to taste something besides just the salt.

But buying the stuff is just a goddamned crap shoot, it seems.


Anyone got some favorites to recommend, or a way of looking for good fish sauce that is better than just randomly taking a chance?


Thanks all....

#2 ExtraMSG

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 08:16 PM

Part of it depends on what you're using it for. I assume you're looking for a filtered fish sauce. I usually buy Squid brand, a Thai fish sauce, I believe. I've never done a real taste test, just gone on the recs of those I trust and what's cheapest. You might want to check out this article I think was posted on this site last year:

http://www.washingto...0042001193.html
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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#3 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 04:25 AM

Part of it depends on what you're using it for. I assume you're looking for a filtered fish sauce. I usually buy Squid brand, a Thai fish sauce, I believe. I've never done a real taste test, just gone on the recs of those I trust and what's cheapest. You might want to check out this article I think was posted on this site last year:

http://www.washingto...0042001193.html


Thanks for the advice. Yes, a filtered fish sauce, and I use it in soups, stews, curries, stirfrys, pasta sauces....almost anything, really.

I'll give the Squid brand a try.


That article was interesting--she visits a traditional family-owned fish sauce factory made the old way--but it's only moderately helpful on its own, because the factory she visits is a small family operation whose product never finds its way over the ocean. However, her article provided a link to another Vietnamese food writer who has more information and some recommendations.


The takedown from the article:

"And 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." (note she provides no real source for the 'wide agreement,' but that's her claim.)

However, "the Phu Quoc name is so coveted and abused in the fish sauce industry" and there is no place of origin protection like you see with regional European products like wines and cheeses, so any crappy fish sauce might have the Phu Quoc name in big letters but actually be produced by some nameless factory somewhere in concrete bins using who-knows-what. Since the local producers are too small to export, anything in America with the Phu Quoc name is almost certainly not made there.

"At the factory in Phu Quoc, the workers lined up the bottles of fish sauce by gradients of color, like tea steeped to varying degrees. The darkest-colored bottle was labeled "43°N/1L" and came from the first extraction of liquid. The others bore decreasingly lower numbers -- 40, 30, 20 and 15°N/L -- and came from subsequent extractions, after water had been added."

"What the number boils down to, Nguyen explained, is the degrees of nitrogen content per liter, a figure that denotes the concentration of fish protein in each drop. While protein is solid, the process of fermentation breaks down the protein's amino acid bonds, of which nitrogen is a main component. " (so basically, it sounds like higher nitrogen=more fishy flavor and an earlier pressing, lower nitrogen=a later pressing, less concentrated and possibly with added seawater.)

"Nguyen says the unique taste of Phu Quoc fish sauce comes from a combination of weather, temperature and fish. Phu Quoc producers use only a particular variety of fish called ca com (literally, "rice fish"), or the long-jawed anchovy, from the island's surrounding waters. The high protein content in Phu Quoc fish sauce also gives it a strong taste of umami "

"most of the fish sauce on the American market these days comes from Thailand. "


From a linked article: Vietnamese fish sauce from Phu Quoc hard to find in the United States:

"Vietnamese-style fish sauce has a sweeter, more delicate taste than traditional Thai fish sauce, which is heavier. Thai cuisine has bolder flavors than Vietnamese, so Thai-style fish sauce, such as the Tiparos brand, is "copacetic with that flavor style," says Andrea Nguyen, author of the cookbook "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" (Ten Speed Press, 2006) and the blog Viet World Kitchen. "They're different flavor profiles." "

"According to Nguyen, most fish sauce in Vietnam is made by very small producers, and it simply costs too much to have an infrastructure in place to export their product. Knorr, a German brand owned by the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever, built a bottling plant on Phu Quoc in 2002 and has since been selling Phu Quoc fish sauce under its brand name. Knorr fish sauce is available in Canada and Asia but not in the United States. Unless you're shopping in dense Vietnamese enclaves in this country (such as in Little Saigon in Orange County, Calif.), it is difficult to find Vietnamese fish sauce here: that is, fish sauce with a Vietnamese flavor profile that was also made in Vietnam.

"Many chefs in the United States use the Three Crabs and Flying Lion brands of fish sauce, both produced by the Viet Huong company and both a "product of Thailand processed in Hong Kong," as indicated on their labels (even though the words "Phu Quoc," referring to the Vietnamese island, deceptively appear in large print on Flying Lion bottles).

"Nguyen also recommends those two brands as being the closest to Vietnamese in style that are readily available in the United States, even though they are produced by a Thai company." -- I'm sorry Julie Wan, I cribbed most of your second short piece, but here is a link to her website, which contains other useful info: www.juliewan.com.


Also, there is the blog she mentions: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com by food writer Andrea Nguyen, who says: "It's hard to get nuoc mam from Phu Quoc abroad, though the Viet Huong (3 Crabs) brand combines Phu Quoc fish sauce with Thai fish sauce. Viet Huong has a whole line of fish sauce that you should check out."



And here is a guide: http://www.vietworld...ying-guide.html, which says:

"If you want to stock your kitchen with the bare minimum for preparing Vietnamese food, start with good quality fish sauce (nuoc mam). How do you judge fish sauce? Look for a light amber color and the words nhi or thuong hang on the label.

"These terms indicate that the condiment came from the first extraction of liquid from the fermented fish, and is of the highest quality. Grades of fish sauces are similar to that of olive oils. That is, extra virgin olive oil is more flavorful and costlier than virgin olive oil. This same rule applies to judging different fish sauces.

"Also keep in mind that fish sauce is also used in Thai and Filipino cooking, where it tends to be saltier and heavier in flavor. So, even though Thailand produces most of the fish sauce sold in the U.S., you need to make sure that the condiment you’re buying is made in the ‘Vietnamese’ style [unless saltier and heavier is what you want...ed.]. How to do this? Look for Vietnamese lettering alongside the Thai script."

[...]

"If ca com is one of the ingredients, that's an indication that the end product was made from a high quality anchovy native to the waters surrounding the island of Phu Quoc. Though I like Viet Huong’s "Three Crab" brand for its consistently delicate flavor, aroma and color, I often try newer brands. Please note that Three Crabs and Flying Lion are both made by Viet Huong. The former is lighter in flavor than the latter, according to the Chung family that produces it."


More info is available at the various links...

#4 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 05:09 AM

On a related note, got any good recommendations for kimchi?

I've never had kimchi and have been wanting to try it.

I'm really, really, really not a fan of cabbage in any form. Really....I fucking hate the stuff.


BUT, I love spicy food, and fermented food, so I've worked myself around mentally to the point where I really want to try kimchi, despite the cabbage factor.

But so far I've been gun-shy....what to get? where to get it? what's the difference? what's good?


I'm easily put off by almost anything because of the "it's cabbage" factor, so I keep almost buying it. At some point I'm just going to have to jump into the pool...

Anyone got a recommendation for kimchi?

#5 austinhaas

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 09:11 AM

We eat a lot of kimchi, but I can't recommend a particular brand. We usually get H-Mart's house made "mak kimchi" and it's pretty inconsistent. I think my wife is going to try to make it next time.

You should know that eating kimchi raw and eating kimchi cooked into a dish can be fairly different experiences. Both are good, but I much prefer chopped kimchi cooked into things like fried rice, potato croquettes, and pork dumplings. I like when the cabbage gets a bit softer and you get these little sour and juicy morsels mixed in. It really adds a lot of flavor to whatever you put it in.

If you go to any Korean restaurant, you'll get at least one small dish of kimchi to try; definitely cabbage and possibly also cucumber and radish. The jars at the grocery store are pretty big, so you might not want to buy that much just to try it.

If you want to try it cooked, then Tanuki usually has kimchi fried rice on the menu and it is fantastic.

#6 ExtraMSG

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 11:09 AM

You'll do much better getting kimchi at a place like Biwa or Tanuki (or the various Korean restaurants that make it for themselves) than you will the stuff in the jars at Hmart, imo. The commercial stuff always seems to have an off-taste. btw, if you don't like cabbage you can just get daikon kimchi.
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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#7 Quo Vadis

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 12:28 PM

I recommend Squid brand as well.
Flavorful, balanced and neutral enough that you can use it in the dishes of many nationalities without it tasting out of place. Outside of "asian" cuisine I like to add a bit of fish sauce to pastas and such where anchovu would be good but I either don't have any around or I don't want to open a whole tin.

Also recommended: make a blend in a bottle to use. Japanese fish sauce is wonderful but hard to find and expensive. A good approximation can be made by blending shiro shoyu (unpasteurized white soy sauce) and Squid fish sauce. That you want to adjust to taste, slowly adding fish to shoyu tasting as you go.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#8 polloelastico

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 12:38 PM

My favorite is Phu Quoc Flying Lion brand. Three Crabs and Squid work.

Stay away from Tiparos, usually comes in a plastic bottle.
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” — George Carlin

#9 StMaximo

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 04:47 PM

My favorite is Phu Quoc Flying Lion brand. Three Crabs and Squid work.

Stay away from Tiparos, usually comes in a plastic bottle.


Where are you getting the Phu Quoc?

#10 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 05:11 PM

Thanks for all the comments and opinions, folks. I appreciate it. Keep 'em coming...

#11 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 08:05 PM

I like to add a bit of fish sauce to pastas and such where anchovu would be good but I either don't have any around or I don't want to open a whole tin.


Buy a bottle of 'fancy' anchovies once at New Seasons (or Whole Paycheck if you don't mind giving money to right-wingers), and forever after you can open a tin and put them in the bottle and top off with olive oil, and avoid the whole "what do I do with this opened tin of anchovies" dilemma.

#12 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 08:25 PM

btw, if you don't like cabbage you can just get daikon kimchi.


I'm not at all familiar with Korean food or restaurants. Is daikon kimchi something I'm likely to find as a menu option, or something I'll have to ask a waiter for specifically? How is the flavor/texture different?

#13 ExtraMSG

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 08:39 PM

btw, if you don't like cabbage you can just get daikon kimchi.


I'm not at all familiar with Korean food or restaurants. Is daikon kimchi something I'm likely to find as a menu option, or something I'll have to ask a waiter for specifically? How is the flavor/texture different?


At any of the Korean stores -- Hmart, Boohan, Paldo -- you can find it as a jarred item of its own and it's often offered as part of the panchan (little plates) with a Korean meal. Daikon is a big radish with a milder flavor than our common radish with a very crisp, moist texture.
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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#14 Wil

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 10:02 PM

Daikon is a big radish with a milder flavor than our common radish with a very crisp, moist texture.


Thanks, I knew that much...was just wondering how it changed the kimchi from the cabbage version.-- ;)

#15 StMaximo

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 05:28 AM

The radish kim chi is chunkier and has more tooth - the radish retains most of it's crispness.

I've gotten several different types of kim chi at H Mart and it's fun to try the different varieties, but the cabbage variety is still my favorite.

I will admit that I'm woefully ignorant when it comes to Korean food - There's not much of it on the east side and I can't bring myself to drive to the west side to learn.

#16 Wil

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 02:26 AM

The radish kim chi is chunkier and has more tooth - the radish retains most of it's crispness.


Thanks, that's what I wanted to know. But I need to try the cabbage version, because my curiosity is based on whether I might like cabbage (or at least not hate it) when it's in kimchi, and also to know what I think of the spice.

#17 StMaximo

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 05:27 AM

Don't base your opinion of Kim Chi on one experience - the variety in the cabbage type alone is pretty broad.

#18 philthyanimal

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 07:27 AM

I've always used squid and 3 crabs.

#19 jennifer

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 10:25 AM

The radish kim chi is chunkier and has more tooth - the radish retains most of it's crispness.


Thanks, that's what I wanted to know. But I need to try the cabbage version, because my curiosity is based on whether I might like cabbage (or at least not hate it) when it's in kimchi, and also to know what I think of the spice.


There's a new kimchi vendor debuting Saturday at PSU's opening market. I'd bet you'll be able to taste a few different kinds from them. Choi's Kimchi. Here's the writeup about it: http://portlandfarme.../15/lil-kimchi/

#20 Quo Vadis

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 05:29 PM

Buy a bottle of 'fancy' anchovies once at New Seasons (or Whole Paycheck if you don't mind giving money to right-wingers), and forever after you can open a tin and put them in the bottle and top off with olive oil, and avoid the whole "what do I do with this opened tin of anchovies" dilemma.


Considering that I am "the right-wingers" I don't mind a bit <_<
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume