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what it is, how to use it and a salad dressing recipe that you will never part with

22 mayo, 2021

The asian fish sauces They are an essential condiment in all the cuisine of Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, increasingly easy to find in the West.

Today they seem something exotic to us, but it is an elaboration that It was widely used by the Mediterranean peoples of antiquity, where it received the name of garos (in Greece) and garum (in Rome).

In his seminal Natural History (74 AD), Pliny the Elder stops to describe the garum: a seasoning “consisting of the guts and other parts of the fish that would normally be considered waste, so the garum is actually the liquor of putrefaction ”.

Guide to eating on the streets of Asia, not falling into tourist traps and learning how to cook their recipes

Despite this unpleasant description, the naturalist commented that “almost no other liquid, except perfume, has come to be valued so highly.” And the garum of Spain, specifically the one that left Cartagena, made with conger eel, it was the one that reached the highest prices.

The garum of Cartagena, made with conger eel, was the one that reached the highest prices

As it explains Harold mcgee In cooking and food the Romans made the garum salting the entrails of the fish, and allowing the mixture to ferment in the sun for several months until most of the meat had detached and then straining the brown liquid.

The garum It was used as an ingredient in cooked dishes and as a sauce on the table, and it was practically ubiquitous in the haute cuisine of the time.

Nowadays, great chefs like Angel Leon (Aponiente) or Kiko moya (L’Escaleta) have tried to develop their own garum, but where the seasoning really survives is in Asia.

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How to make fish sauce

In Asia, fish sauces meet the same function as soy sauce, and it is especially popular, precisely, in regions where this legume does not grow well.

It is a salty condiment, with a very recognizable flavor of intense umami, which is more reminiscent of roast meat than the sea

There are many varieties of fish sauce. In Thailand it is known as nam-plaa, in Vietnam nuoc mam, in Corea jeot-kal or in japan shiokara. These sauces are made with different raw materials, and different fermentation times, but their manufacture is practically the same.

First, fish or shellfish waste is mixed with salt, until obtaining a saline concentration of between 10 and 30%. This mass is sealed in closed containers for a month, to obtain the fish pastes, and up to 24 months to make the sauces.

The pasta (harder to find in the West) have a very strong fishy taste and rotten smell. But the sauces They hardly recall what they once were: it is a salty condiment, with a very recognizable flavor of intense umami, which is more reminiscent of roast meat than the sea. Its uses in the kitchen are unlimited.

Laab Gai Thai chicken salad, laab gai, is always dressed with fish sauce.

Where to find the fish sauce

In Spain it is already very easy to find fish sauce, specifically that of the squid brand, from Thailand. The seasoning is not only common in Asian cuisine, but also in part of Latin American cuisine, so it is easy to see in grocery stores with immigrant clientele.

Fish sauce is also usually found in big surfaces –Normally in the typical ethnic corner– and, of course, you can always order online, where, in addition, we can choose many other varieties.

The good news is that, being such a fermented product, its expiration date is very longIt spreads a lot – just use one or two tablespoons per plate – and on top of that, it’s cheap. So you also don’t lose anything by buying a bottle and trying.

Pad Thai The famous paf thai also has fish sauce.

What to use the fish sauce for

Although fish sauce is a condiment present in almost all of Asia, it is essential if we want to enter the Thai or Vietnamese cuisines, where it is ubiquitous.

In Southeast Asia, fish sauce is used to season all kinds of woks, salads and even curries, and it is essential in dishes as iconic as pad thai or Vietnamese rolls, which are dipped in a sauce in which the nuoc man It’s fundamental.

To delve into Southeast Asian cuisine, we cannot fail to recommend the book Eating on the streets of Asia, by the founder of Kitchen 154, Alejandro Zurdo, whom we recently interviewed.


From his book we have extracted this thai salad dressing recipe, which has become a fixture in our repertoire. This dressing adds a fresh, tasty and even addictive touch to salads, and it is great for not getting tired of the typical oil and vinegar dressings.

Heat the water (you can use the typical kettle) and dissolve the sugar. Let it cool and mix it with the rest of the ingredients.

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Recipes in which to use fish sauce

This dressing can be used in all kinds of salads, although it is essential in Southeast Asian dishes, such as laab gai, a type of salad native to northwestern Thailand – from the Isan region – that is prepared with minced meat; or the Thai beef salad, which has become immensely popular in the US.

The mixture can and is usually completed with spicy touches and aromatic herbs. The thing to always remember is that the fish sauce is very salty, so if we use it we should not add more salt to our dishes.

Although olive oil does not exist in Southeast Asia, we attest that it can be added to this dressing to give it more consistency. At home we have been hooked for weeks on a sauce made up of this Thai salad dressing, olive oil and green chili marinade, which adds aromatic herbs and spice to the mix.

If you have fish sauce and you don’t know what to use it with, we also recommend other recipes how are you:

Some of the links posted here are from affiliates. Despite this, none of the articles mentioned have been proposed by either the brands or the stores, their introduction being a unique decision of the team of editors.

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