“A fish sauce by any other name would smell as…”

As a lover of both history and food, it really gets my gears turning when I find an intersection of the two.  A beautiful example is the French concept of terroir – the taste of place.  And although it typically is used in conjunction with wine, the principles of terroir can be broadened to all foods.  If anything, it is a marker of culinary anthropology; why people in certain regions made their gustatory decisions.  It blows my mind to think of alpine dairy farmers thousands of miles apart from one another, hundreds of years ago, who made remarkably similar styles of cheese.  But today we’re not talking about cheese – we’re talking about fish sauce.

Fish sauce is the byproduct from making anchovies.  Traditionally, anchovies are made by packing the tiny saltwater fish (bones, scales, and all) between layers of salt, in a barrel and letting them cure for several months.  During that time, the salt leaches the moisture out of the fish through osmosis, and the anchovies are transformed through lactic fermentation into what we commonly call “brown anchovies” (White anchovies, or boquerones are pickled rather than cured.)  After the several month long curing process, the fermented juice that collects at the bottom of the barrell is the fish sauce – or as the ancient Romans called it: garum.

Southeast Asian fish sauces and and Italian Garum Colatura have been made in nearly identical processes for hundreds of years, halfway across the world from one another.  In both cases, the best versions only contain anchovies (or sometimes other fish) and salt.  In both regions, they are used to bolster the flavor of food with their glutamite rich, umami boosting power.

Our Garum Colatura is from Delfino, a small producer on the Italian Island of Capri.  In Italy it is referred to simply as “colatura” which means “to drip.”  The word “garum” is a reference to its ancient ancestor, a pungent Roman fish sauce.  It used to be that every family in Capri had their own barrel of fermenting anchovies for making Garum Colatura.  In Capri, colatura is commonly used on a Christmas day pasta tossed with olive oil, chili flakes, garlic and parsley.  Our Garum Colatura tastes briney and brothy, with a meaty aroma that is unmistakably anchovy.

Fish Sauce is new to our warehouse, and came as a suggestion from our friends Bob and Kristen at Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson, Nevada.  Owner Cuong grew up Saigon, but immigrated to the United States in his early adulthood.  He tried to emulate the cooking of his homeland, but the fish sauce he found in Asian markets left him with a bad taste in his mouth.  They were far from the full-flavored version he remembered from home, so he set to making his own superior version.  

In 2006 he started a small factory on the tropical island of Phu Quac, which is known for its phenomenal fish sauce.   Black Anchovies are harvested off the Phu Quoc island archipelago.  When they return to the port, the anchovies are cleaned, and packed in salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart a vivid fruity sweetness into the fish sauce that we were shocked to find was not from added sugar (remember: only anchovies and salt.)  We currently stock the 40°N fish sauce from Red Boat.  Degrees N is an industry standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce which relates to the protein level.

Click here to watch a video of Red Boat’s fish sauce being made.

Have questions? Give us a call at (612) 521-8725, we love talking about food.

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