THE COOK’S TOUR
Umami. If one thing brings out the best in Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, oh heck and pretty much any other world cuisines, it is fish sauce.
For my cautious carnivores in North America and Europe, you meat-and-potatoes eaters, go ahead. Let’s get it out of your system:
Happy? Guar-un-tee that y’all eat it a LOT more than you know, so, please, read on.
If you use soy sauce, it is kind of the low-rent vegetarian cousin of fish sauce.
True fish sauce is a wonderful salty-umami, a total flavor rush, used in moderation, but NOT fishy. It amps up everything from fried rice and a bazillion noodle dishes to that mystery dash in a Bloody Mary that puts that big WOW smile on your face after the first sip.
If you go to an Asian market, there are a bunch of fish sauces. Many of them are pretty cheap, thinned either because they water down their batch to make it go further, or because it’s an inferior second-pass. If you see caramel coloring, or ingredients that don’t involve fish, salt, and/or herbs, take a pass, as it’s second-pass.
So why go Red Boat? Their 200 year-old all-natural, chemical-free, first-press artisanal process produces an “extra virgin” Vietnamese fish sauce that just stomps the comp in many, many taste tests. Its worthiness will become self-evident when witness the wonders that it does for your dishes!
This is your Rolls Royce for summer rolls, your Cadillac for killah carpaccio:
Black anchovies are salted minutes after leaving the sea, then slow aged for over a year using traditional wooden barrels. They don’t dilute it with water, add MSG, or other preservatives other than salt.
Umami. It’s a salty-savory-sweet taste that’s kind of hard to describe, but you know it once you’ve had it. My mouth waters just kind of thinking about it. It brightens up dishes and adds a lot of WOW without adding a lot of heat, sour, sweet, or aromatics. If you’ve never cooked with it, then we’re about to rock your world!
- Thai Chicken Satay sticks
- Thai Tom Yum soup
- Vietnamese stir fry pork
- Vietnamese pork balls
- Vietnamese chicken wings
- Chinese Steamed Fish
- Indonesian, Thai and coastal Indian curries
- Nasi Goreng – Indonesian fried rice
- Any vegetable dish
A FEW RIFFS
- My Jazz Chef Ragoût Thiam – Senegal Meets Sunday Gravy with umami meatballs in a tomato-okra sauce over couscous
- Mix a little truffle oil with a dash or two of fish sauce for a drizzle over carpaccio
- Add to my Asian Bacon cure for a little umami depth
- A key part of my sauce for my boiled scallion chicken over glass noodles
- Jazz Chef Breakfast Rice would not be nearly as nice without it
- Part of my Jazz Chef Thai Bloody Mary
- Takes my caesar salad up to A+ game; great in dressings of all kinds, even (gasp) ranch.
Fish sauce is a very old, traditional seasoning. Fermentation of fish dates back thousands of years, first as part of the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and in many parts of Asia.
- Nam pla
- Nuoc mam
- Aek jeot
If fish sauce isn’t a staple in your kitchen, it will be once you see what Red Boat’s extra-virgin fish sauce can do to up the quality of your dishes and cocktails.
How you make it matters. Red Boat’s, artisan, traditional barrel fermentation, and top-grade black anchovy, walk that walk. That has to be why pretty much every major food rag and legions of the world’s top chefs love it so much! My go-to umami, it earns The Jazz Chef Five Diamond for sticking to artisan excellence where most of its competitors on the shelf have become watery and second-rate.