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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thai Fish Sauce

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Thai fish sauce is a magic ingredient if you can get past the nasty smell. Why does it smell so nasty? Because it’s made of fermented anchovy juice. Genuine fish sauce is the water, or juice, in the flesh of fish that is extracted in the process of prolonged salting and fermentation. It is made from small fish that would otherwise have little value for consumption. This can either be freshwater or saltwater fish, though today, most fish sauce is made from the latter as pollution and dams have drastically reduced the once plentiful supply of freshwater fish in the heartlands of Southeast Asia.

Among marine fish, anchovies and related species of small schooling fish from two to five inches in length are commonly used, as they can be found in bountiful supply in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. Larger varieties of fish, such as mackerel and sardines, also make good fish sauce, but because they are relatively more expensive due to their value as a food, they are seldom used in the commercial production of fish sauce.

For fish sauce to develop a pleasant, fragrant aroma and taste, the fish must be very fresh. As soon as fishing boats return with their catch, the fish are rinsed and drained, then mixed with sea salt – two to three parts fish to one part salt by weight. They are then filled into large earthenware jars, lined on the bottom with a layer of salt, and topped with a layer of salt. A woven bamboo mat is placed over the fish and weighted down with heavy rocks to keep the fish from floating when water inside them are extracted out by the salt and fermentation process.

The jars are covered and left in a sunny location for nine months to a year. From time to time, they are uncovered to air out and to let the fish be exposed to direct, hot sunshine, which helps "digest" the fish and turn them into fluid. The periodic "sunning" produces a fish sauce of superior quality, giving it a fragrant aroma and a clear, reddish brown color.

After enough months have passed, the liquid is removed from the jars, preferably through a spigot on the bottom of the jars, so that it passes through the layers of fish remains; or by siphoning. Any sediments are strained out with a clean cloth. The filtered fish sauce is filled into other clean jars and allowed to air out in the sun for a couple of weeks to dissipate the strong fish odors. It is then ready for bottling. The finished product is 100-percent, top-grade, genuine fish sauce.

Here is a simple little recipe to get you into the sauce. Use it to marinate your favorite meat, fish or poultry before sautéing, grilling or roasting. This is also a great dipping sauce for chicken finger appetizers.

Thai Fish Sauce Marinade

1/2 cup fish sauce
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar

In a blender, combine fish sauce, garlic, jalapeño pepper, lime juice and brown sugar. Pulse until well blended. Ziggy’s has Thai fish sauce. Buy the real stuff, not the fancy kind you get at "Whole Paycheck." It’s cheap and good — I like the Squid brand.