Wednesday, April 6, 2016

5 Adventurous Ways to Use Fish Sauce


Although fish sauce is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisines, legend has it that the condiment was originally concocted by either the Greeks or the Carthaginians. I have tremendous respect for those culinary innovators who dared to entertain the thought that fermenting two mercilessly salty things like salt and anchovies together might result in something edible. I'm also grateful for my Asian ancestors who embraced this condiment so zealously they put it in almost everything they cooked. Yes, I am a big fan of fish sauce. What's not to love about it? Its deep umami flavor puts salt to shame. Its sodium content makes soy sauce look like a wuss. Even Worcestershire and Hoisin run for shelter when they hear fish sauce is coming. That's how gangsta it is.

To southeast Asians, a kitchen without fish sauce is like a bathroom without soap. I myself have used it to season many Thai dishes: soups, curries, salads, stir-fries, you name it. But today I'd rather not talk about any of those commonplace items. They're way too mundane. Let's explore some more adventurous options and get creative!

1. Add it to a pickling liquid - There's a fun recipe for spicy Asian pickles on Epicurious that calls for fish sauce, rice vinegar and crushed red pepper among other things. Have I tried it? Not yet but I vow to do so. I won't limit myself to only cucumbers, though. I'll experiment with cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, celery, pineapple and maybe watermelon. Why let cucumbers be the privileged one? Other vegetables and fruits can reap yummy benefits from that fishy goodness as well.

2. Turn it into caramel candies - The idea of fish-flavored caramels might make many people panic and shudder. But if you're not afraid, check out the fish-sauce caramel recipe on Cupcake Project, shared by Steph. She's a spunky baker who doesn't shy away from "odd" ingredients. In this recipe, she creates a distinct Southeast-Asian flavor by complementing our gangsta condiment with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. And to counterbalance the fish sauce's sharp taste, she uses dark chocolate, coconut milk, and as one would expect, quite a bit of sugar.

3. Make ice-cream with it - Food52.com challenges us to try their Thai curry ice-cream recipe, featuring fish sauce, curry paste, coconut milk, fresh basil and brown sugar. This ice-cream flavor may not be (and may never become) mainstream, but the concept is actually not that new. Many dessert artisans have done it successfully. Just last year, I had peanut-butter curry ice-cream at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco. It was interesting and.......well, let's leave it at interesting.

4. Put it in your booze - Fish sauce can be a creative substitute for Worcestershire in Bloody Mary, soy sauce in Michelada, and clam juice in Low Tide Martini. Make sure you're at least moderately tipsy before attempting such substitution, though. Not to imply that a fish-sauce cocktail might be too horrendous for a sober palate to bear. It's just that when you're drunk, you'll probably be more courageous, and when you're more courageous, pouring fish sauce into your Martini will sound like an excellent idea, and once you have that idea ingrained in your head, your fishy drink is gonna be fantastic no matter what.

5. Weaponize it - The potent aroma of fish sauce is not for the faint-hearted. It's a culinary uranium. Use it properly and everything will be great. If handled with malice or negligence, however, the outcome will be catastrophic.  When I was about ten, I accidentally dropped and broke a bottle of fish sauce in my grandmother's kitchen. No matter how doggedly we cleaned it, the stench still lingered for weeks. So did my grandmother's rage. If you are to adopt this fish sauce usage, think very long and very hard before you do it. My honest advice: just don't.

Disclaimer: Try these at your own risk.  I will take ZERO responsibility for your terrorized taste buds, loss of faith in fish sauce, or erratic diarrhea.

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