It was a swank party, with wine flowing and lovely passed hors d’oeuvre prepared from recipes in David Thompson’s new book, Thai Street Food. (The gorgeous oversize book won’t be released in the U.S. until October 2010 though I managed to get a copy. Sorry.) Thompson is one of the world’s leading experts on Thai cooking and I use his work, Thai Food, as a reference book all the time. I have immense respect for Thompson, who has a dry wit that charms. The chef behind Michelin-starred Nahm restaurant in London, he is not a particularly commercial man but he has decided to become an ambassador (spokesperson) for Megachef fish sauce. His picture is on the tag around each bottle. Thompson’s endorsement piqued my interest and attracted me to the event.
While other guests nibbled and sipped, cookbook author and Sydney chef Luke Nguyen and I inquired about the fish sauce itself. Was it available to taste? Emma, a Megachef representative, procured a glass goblet of the fish sauce. We tasted and nodded in approval. Luke asked me quietly, “Do you think it’s as good as Vietnamese nuoc mam?”
Emma explained that one of the things that Megachef aimed to do was make an odorless fish sauce. “Huh? I aim to teach people that fish sauce smells good, that they should appreciate it! No one drinks fish sauce from the bottle!” I said. We all agreed and laughed, with Emmo going on to clarify that Megachef was looking to appeal to non-Asian cooks. “No need to do that,” I responded. “Fish sauce has a great smell. In fact, good fish sauce smells like dried porcini mushrooms. Do a side-by-side sniff test and you’ll see.”
It was obvious that Megachef (which Thompson says has an awkward name and I agree) spent a lot of time and money on reducing the rank aroma that many people associate with fish sauce; I associate that level of stinkiness to bad fish sauce. Rather than quibble more about Megachef’s marketing strategy, I figured that I would take one of the complimentary bottles back to the U.S. and do a taste test.
Son of Squid Tasting Notes
First off, know that Megachef is the son of Squid. That’s what one of Luke’s cooks, who is Thai and up on all the latest in Thai food gossip, revealed to us later that night during dinner at Red Lantern restaurant. Squid brand is one of the leading brands of fish sauce and the company wanted to produce a premium condiment. Bhas Nithipitikarn is the owner and son of the man who founded Squid brand. Hence, Megachef is the son of Squid.
That said, today I did a taste test with a Yael Coty, a former Saveur magazine intern who was visiting Santa Cruz and came over to cook with me. I put Megachef up against Viet Huong’s premium 5 Crabs and standard 3 Crabs, which I've done a tasting of before. Here’s what Yael and I found:
Fragrance: We sniffed all three and they smelled fine. Not rank at all. The Megachef wasn't devoid of odor but it wasn't stinky like cheap fish sauce. (Update: In an email exchange with Thompson after this post was published, he suggested to me that the term 'odorless' may be been inappropriately used to mean not being rank. I agreed that it could have been a poor communication issue.)
Ingredients: Aside from anchovy extract and water, Megachef contains sugar and fructose; it’s pure as advertised. Viet Huong fish sauces have fructose and hydrolyzed wheat protein. Some people say that the hydrolyzed wheat protein is a chemical cheat as it’s like MSG. It’s a form of natural MSG as it contains glutamic acid but then anchovy extract does too. I’ve not heard of people dying from overdosing on fish sauce containing hydrolyzed wheat protein. All things in moderation, okay?
Color: They were more or less the same tea-like color. Megachef
has a brown plastic sleeve on the bottle so as to protect the liquid
from oxidizing so you have to tilt the bottle to see the actual color.
Flavor: Megachef is naturally fermented for 2 years and it has a pleasant sweet, savory quality. It’s mellower and rounder in flavor than Viet Huong fish sauces. The Viet Huong fish sauces had a slight sharp bite at the end. After dipping our demitasse spoons several times in the fish sauces and tasting, Yael and admitted that the taste differences were pretty slight and all three fish sauces were good.
Conclusion: Megachef is sold in Thailand and now available in Australia. The owners are looking for a distributor in the U.S. and I’d love to see it here. I’d buy it, especially as it’s not priced much more than other kinds of fish sauce. I’m not keen on most kinds of Thai-style of fish sauce as they tend to be rather heavy in flavor. But Megachef is exceptionally good. I’ll keep using Viet Huong but look forward to Megachef coming to America.
For more information: www.megachef.co.th
If you’ve tasted Megachef fish sauce, what are your thoughts?