It’s not like I have a huge amount of time right now (we’re gearing up for The Pho Cookbook photo shoot) but it suddenly dawned upon me that seaweed could possibility be used to make a faux fish sauce. Our recent discussion on Facebook about umami-laden Shitake mushroom seasoning granules (bot nam dong co in Vietnamese) also got me thinking about making non-fish fish sauce. As a result, I spent about 36 hours seeing if I could make a fishless fish sauce and what we may learn from my experience.
There are vegetarian fish sauces sold at Viet markets. I’ve only tried one brand and it was a long time ago. It was lacking in dimension. Since then, I’ve come up with workarounds in my cookbook writing that employ soy sauce. But could I make a vegetarian fish sauce to just have around in a jar to employ in food? Would it be possible?
My experiment didn’t involve cooking anything. Actually, most of the work was done in my sleep or while I was doing something else: I just soaked stuff. Dried seaweed – wakame and kombu – were used to create a sea-like flavor that evoked the briny qualities of fish. In Asian Tofu, I used nori and tofu to create fabulous fake unagi eel, a nifty trick I learned from a Buddhist restaurant in Taipei.
Dried wakame (used often in seaweed salads and sold at Asian markets) produced a clear, slightly silky liquid that was also vaguely salty. My husband tasted my first round of fish-less fish sauce and said, “It tastes like seaweed!” That wasn’t a good endorsement.