Once derided as stinky and eliciting “EEEWWW” reactions, fish sauce is having its moment in the sun, literally and figuratively. The amber red liquid made from salting and fermenting fish is no longer seen as a purely Thai or Vietnamese ingredient but as a stealth pantry item to be deployed wherever savory depth is needed. A number of professional chefs, such as Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin, have incorporated fish sauce into dishes. I use its savory, umami-ness to fix or finesse many savory dishes, not just Asian ones.
A couple of years ago in a Saveur 100 piece on Red Boat fish sauce, I wrote that I added fish sauce to my tomato-based pasta sauce. My editor at the time, Beth Kracklauer, took note of that. When she took over the food and cooking content for the Wall Street Journal, she asked me to write about non-traditional uses of fish sauce. The story was published over the weekend, and included three recipes (pictured above) for a Tuscan liver pate, Caesar salad, and pasta. It’s a full menu that employs fish sauce as a stealth ingredient for lending depth. (Beth said that story is launching a new WSJ feature called “Secret Ingredient.”)