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  Fish Sauce
  Category: Thai
  Author: The Savvybearcat
  Date: 1/1/2007
  Hits: 670
Stephen Ceideburg
FISH SAUCE 1 The profusion of fish sauce can be a bit confusing. In
general, the lighter colored ones seem to be better--more subtly
flavored and less salty. I just found an excellent one the other day
(at Safeway of all places) called "Shrimp Sauce". There's a picture
of a shrimp on the label. The label is a bit confusing. The
Vietnamese and English on the label call it fish sauce (nuoc mam) but
the ingredients are listed as water, shrimp and salt. Unfortunately I
can't read the Thai or Chinese on the label, but it has the symbol of
"First Grade Quality" from the Thai Indus- trial Standard Institute.
At any rate, it's good stuff. Here's a little discourse on fish sauce
from "The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam" by Bach Ngo and Gloria

"Fish sauce is to Vietnamese cooking whet salt is to Western and soy
sauce to Chinese cooking. It is included in practically all recipes.
Prepared from fresh anchovies and salt, layered in huge wooden
barrels, the manufacture of fish sauce is a major industry. The
factories are located along the coast to assure the freshness of the
fish to be processed. Fermentation is started once a year, during the
fishing season. After about 3 months in the barrel, liquid drips from
an open spigot, to be poured back into the top of the barrel. After
about 6 months the fish sauce is produced.

The first draining is the very best fish sauce, lighter in color and
perfectly clear. It is relatively expensive and is reserved for table
use. The second and third drainings yield a fish sauce of lower
quality and lower cost fro general-purpose cooking. The two towns
most noted for their fish sauce are Phi Quoc and Phan Thiet. Phu Quoc
produces the best fish sauce, some of which is exported. On the
label, the work "nhi" signifies the highest quality. When fish sauce
manufactured in Vietnam is not available, that of Thailand or Hong
Kong is quite acceptable. Philippine or Chinese fish sauce will not
be satisfactory. For table use and available in all Oriental
groceries is Squid Brand Fish Sauce, the best one on the market.
Whatever the brand, look for "Ca Com" on the label, which means that
only anchovies were used--an indication of the highest quality for
table use."

In the following post, another author presents more info, some a bit
contradictory to the above.


This is from "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Routhier.

"...It enhances and blends so subtly with other flavors that one can
barely detect its presence."

"Like olive oil and good wine, there are different grades of fish
sauce. The very best fish sauce is obtained from the first drainage.
The resulting liquid is amber in color, very dark and usually
expensive. If you see the words "nhi" or "thuong hang" on a label, it
means that the fish sauce of of the highest quality. This type of
fish sauce is usually reserved for table use. Sec- ond-grade nuoc
mam, cheaper and intended for all-purpose cooking, is made by adding
water and pressing the fish after the first- quality sauce has been
extracted. The resulting liquid is light and very clear."

"Fish sauce (nuoc mam): Nuoc mam is like Thai "nam pla" but
stronger..."Squid" and "Ruang Tong" brands are widely available,
bottled, in Oriental markets and some supermarkets..."

So there it is. Ya pays yer money and yer takes yer chances... I
doubt if you'll find any Vietnamese fish sauce, considering the
embargo, but the Thai nuoc mam is supposed to be as good. In fact,
I'll go out on a limb and say that, considering the fact that
Thailand is just around the corner from Vietnam and has a lot of
Vietnamese living there, that the differences would be undetectable.
I'd get a bottle of light stuff and a bottle of the darker stuff
(Tiparos brand comes to mind) and play around with them. At one time
I had five different brands on the shelf. The stuff's pretty cheap
and none of it was what I'd consider inferior.

Now you know as much about fish sauce as I do...
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