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Fish Sauce – the Secret Ingredient

Fish sauce. Patis. Nước mắm.

For many Americans, it’s that stuff they put on Vietnamese or Thai food that smells. But fish sauce is not just for southeast Asian dishes. Fish sauce was a standard condiment for the ancient Romans. They even had recipes for instant fish sauce for those socially uncomfortable occasions when you were hosting a bacchanalia and the kitchen ran out.

Fish sauce is often my secret ingredient. Breakfast eggs (scrambled) and fried potatoes are two of my favorite targets. Sautèed veggies are also good. As an ingredient in a marinade? Oh yes!

It doesn’t take much – a few splashes that amount to maybe a tablespoon. The smell is the first thing to hit you but then that smell goes away and the fish sauce does its true work, melding itself into the flavors. The result is a taste that is both delicious and very hard (if not impossible) to identify.

So don’t be afraid to try it. (OK, maybe not on pancakes)


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