Fish sauce, nuoc mam, serves the entire Vietnamese cuisine and is sold in glass and plastic bottles. Fish sauce is considered typical Asian but the Romans and Greeks used this flavor enhancer exuberantly called garum. Garum is nothing but fish water that is extracted from salted fish. In Asian cuisine mainly anchovies is used, while the Greeks and Romans preferred the mackerel.
Fish sauce is made from pure fish water that is extracted from fish and salt. That’s what you should taste, first fish, then salt, without being too fishy and too salty or too bland. Keep a bottle of fish sauce, preferably in the pantry, no longer than a year after opening, because fish sauce oxidises and degrades as wine. I now read the ingredients on the labels more often than I used to. I can definitely recommend it for fish sauce, because I’m not going to try it right out of the bottle. The best fish sauce has a clear dark amber color and has no additives such as sugar, MSG, soy or flower.
The penetrating smell that comes directly from the bottle of fish sauce can be a stumbling block to use this ingredient, but do not be put off. Consider the use of fish sauce as a dressing for salads, flavor enhancer in soups and as a binding element for meat and fish marinades.
You will be surprised by the application possiblities and the umami taste, because it is a rich flavor enhancer and with sugar it works well to caramelize if necessary. Nuoc mam is added pure from the bottle while cooking the dishes. For the familiar and indispensable Vietnamese dips and dressings, water, sugar, lemon juice, garlic and chili peppers are added to the fish sauce.