We call it patis in the Philippines. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it is nam pla in Thailand, nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pa in Laos, tuk trey in Cambodia, ngan-pya-ye in Myanmar (Burma), and ketjap ikan in Indonesia.
Yes, fish sauce is ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cookery. Non-Asians might have encountered bottled fish sauce as a tableside condiment that can be drizzled over cooked food. But fish sauce isn’t just something added to food after it has been cooked. We season food with fish sauce before, during as well as after cooking. It is an important ingredient in marinades. And, in many cases, it takes the place of salt when cooking soups and stews.
What exactly is fish sauce?
There are fish that have no real retail value either because they are too smelly, they have too little flesh for eating or there are simply too much of them. They are used for making fish sauce. Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are all fish sauce-producing and exporting countries.
Fish sauce is the liquid extracted by mixing fish with salt, and allowing the mixture to ferment until the proteins break down. The extract has a deeply nuanced savory flavor. To better understand how fish sauce is made, I searched for the most informative video on Youtube.
Fish sauce comes in various grades
Know that there is premium fish sauce, good fish sauce and so-so fish sauce where the flavor of fish is almost non-existent.
High quality or better grades of patis are prepared from anchovies, goby fry, herring fry and small shrimps. A cheaper grade of patis is prepared by mixing the residue from which a series of extraction with saturated brine solution has been made. Others sell the residue which is ground and mixed with saturated brine to get the proper consistency…Preliminary Studies on the Comparative Chemical Composition of Different Commercial Brands of “Patis” in the Philippines
When buying fish sauce, avoid those with visible residue. The liquid should be clear; the color golden to amber.
Fish sauce in Southeast Asian cookery
The most common way to use fish sauce is to serve it for dipping cooked food. The dipping sauce can be pure fish sauce or a mixed fish sauce. Mixed fish sauce has endless varieties. In Vietnam for example, fish sauce is mixed with citrus juice, garlic, sugar and chilies to make nuoc cham. In the Philippines, fish sauce with calamansi juice and chilies is a popular dipping sauce for fried meat and fish.
Beyond dipping, fish sauce is used in cooking.
Fish sauce in marinades
- Thai Fried Chicken
- Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Belly
- Vietnamese Beef Stew
- Braised Chicken and Oyster Mushrooms with Thai Basil
- Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls
Fish sauce in stews
- Vietnamese Caramel Pork with Eggs and Bamboo Shoots
- Pork Rendang
- Dinuguan (Filipino Pork and Blood Stew)
- Filipino Laing (Spicy Taro Leaves and Coconut Milk Stew)
Fish sauce in stir fries
- Stir fried pork and chayote strips with ginger and chilies
- Easy Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)
- Thai pork larb (Lao pork laab)
- Thai Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice