Fish sauce (nuoc mam) is a staple ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. It is a condiment made from fermented anchovies. In terms of taste, it has a salty and umami flavor with a pleasantly strong smell. In terms of appearance, fish sauce is a transparent deep amber liquid.
How to use
Fish sauce can be added to marinade or during cooking. In addition, it can be used as a dipping sauce, either directly or mixed with other ingredients such as lime juice, vinegar and sugar. Generally speaking, we add fish sauce to everything (except dessert) in Vietnamese cooking.
Personally, I don’t use fish sauce to marinate beef because I find that it makes the beef tough and sour. Therefore, I only add fish sauce during cooking the beef.
Where to buy
Fish sauce is sold at all Asian grocery stores. I also see it being sold at some regular Western grocery stores. When choosing fish sauce, you should choose the one with only anchovies extract and salt as the main ingredients. I do not recommend buying fish sauce containing other ingredients such as sugar and MSG.
My favorite fish sauce brand is Red Boat. You can buy it on their website, Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Some local grocery stores may carry it. The price is higher than other brands but the superior taste and smell does justify the price tag, in my opinion. I usually buy this pack of 3 Red Boat bottles from Amazon for about $21 and I have never had any issues with the packaging.