|Homemade Fermented Fish Sauce|
That ingredient was fish sauce, a fermented fish condiment, also known by the names nam pla, nuac mam, and nam pa, among others. Fish sauce adds a fishy soy sauce like flavor to foods, and is used in stir fries, dipping sauces, curries, etc..
What do I do when I discover a food that I can't buy where I live?
Why, make it myself, of course.
So that is what I did. I made this at the same time as I was starting to make my homemade soy sauce, so I was already engaged in one "very gross" fermentation process, so I figured, why not try another crazy experiment at the same time? And by golly, it worked out very well!
Homemade Fish Sauce Recipe
Here's how you also can make a fermented fish sauce. I don't have an exact recipe, only an imprecise set of instructions, because you can make this recipe differently depending on the ingredients you have available, and I'm sure it'll all come out great. I used fresh sardines for mine, because sardines are one of the cheapest fish available in my area, but you can use any type of fish. You can use regular, standard fish with vertebrae (anchovies are one of the typical fish used in making fish sauce), or shellfish, or even octopus. It doesn't matter, so long as its fish.
1. Take your fish and chop it up, bones, head, scales, flesh and all. The smaller the pieces, the better.
2. Mix with a lot of salt. I can't tell you an exact amount as I didn't measure, but you want it salty enough to kill any bad bacteria (this is raw sardines we're talking about) and prevent mold growth. I also know that if this is supposed to be a soy sauce replacement, it would need to be quite salty, so I was very generous with the salt.
3. Add some water. Not a ton, but since you want it to ferment and the fish may not have so much liquid, its a good idea to put some water in to fill in the spaces between the fish parts.
4. Put your mixture in a glass jar. Cover it. This probably would have fermented best covered with a cheesecloth, but as I was fermenting it in my kitchen, I had no interest in having the constant fishy smell, so I just kept the cover of the jar sealed tightly and would open it once every day or two to allow the mixture to "breathe".
5. Leave your fermented fishy stuff on the counter, on your shelf, in your pantry for a while. Give it a shake every few days. I've read to leave it as long as a year, but after 3 weeks I got too impatient and started using it and it was fine. Then again, I've never tasted store bought fish sauce, so I don't have what to compare, but it worked out well in the recipes calling for fish sauce so I assume it tastes as it should.
6. You'll notice little bubbles appearing inside the mixture, and that's good, because it means your stuff is fermenting. At a certain point, you'll also see the mixture separating out into different layers. That's also fine. This is what my jar looked like right before I put my fish sauce to use, a little less than 3 weeks after starting it fermenting.
7. Using a mesh strainer, strain the solids out of your mixture. See all the bones and scales and solids that I strained out.
8. You'll be left with this icky looking brown sludge. You should run this through a cheesecloth to take out any small solids left inside, and it'll be less sludgy and looking slightly more appealing.
9. Bring the fish sauce to a boil on the stove for a few minutes to pasteurize it. This will make your kitchen reek to high heavens, and your husband will come out of the bedroom and ask you what type of crazy experiment you're conducting, it smells that bad. But this is just a one time thing, and then you won't have to stink up your house anymore.
And let me reassure you- it tastes a whole lot better than it smells. And looks.
10. Once pasteurized, taste the sauce. Add more water and salt to taste. I added enough water to thin it out to a reasonable consistency, and then added enough salt so it would be a suitable soy sauce replacement.
11. Bottle your fish sauce in a glass jar or bottle. Refrigerate. (I am not sure if necessary, but that's what I did.) Once cool, if you used a fatty fish, you'll notice that a layer of fat will harden across the top of your jar, much like when making and chilling real chicken soup. Scoop off this salty, fatty layer if desired, or just push aside to access the fish sauce.
12. Use this condiment in Thai, Veitnamese, Indonesian, Burmese and other South Asian cuisines in recipes that call for fish sauce. I used it for these gluten free fish spring rolls, and also made a sweet and sour dipping sauce with the fish sauce. It certainly was a hit! (I plan on sharing the recipe for those spring rolls tomorrow but no guarantees.)
Have you ever eaten fish sauce before? Do you like it? What type of fish was it made from? What is your favorite dish or dishes made with fish sauce?
Do you stock fish sauce in your home? Why or why not?
Do you think you'd try out this method of making homemade fish sauce?
And honestly- what process sounds scarier/weirder/more far out? Homemade fish sauce like this? Or my homemade soy sauce?
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