I remember the first time I realized that many of my favorite Thai and Vietnamese dishes were made with a terribly funky thing called fish sauce. The name itself is less than appealing, and for someone with an aversion to really funky fish, it wasn't something I was ready to try for some time. But when I did, I was amazed at the perfect umami taste it added to the finished dish.
Jon Fasman at The Economist's More Intelligent Life blog explores the sometimes invisible line between food fermented just enough (cured meats, aged cheeses, pickled vegetables) and too much (you know it when you taste it, and it doesn't taste good). Science doesn't have a clear answer to why some foods taste good when they ferment and others don't. Fish sauce is one of those fermented foods planted firmly in the good category.
Fasman delves into the difference between the liquid and solid versions of fish sauce, as well as several recipes featuring the pungent stuff. Much like starting a pasta sauce with anchovy paste, fish sauce cooks into something completely different than the rather foul way it smells right out of the bottle. Fasman has grown to love it so much that he even uses it when making stock.
Do you use fish sauce?
• Read more: A Thin Line Between Fermentation and Rotat The Economist
Related: Ingredient Spotlight: Fish Sauce