When my good friend Kyle recruited me to do a fish sauce blind tasting with him, I jumped on the opportunity right away. In addition to having a few samples delivered to him, we also headed over to our local Asian market to purchase additional brands for our tasting session.
The amber-colored and piquant fish sauce is a prime staple in many cuisines, from East to Southeast Asian cuisines. It is extracted from the fermentation of fish (mostly anchovies) and sea salt and can be used to marinade, brine, dip and in many other forms. It’s umami quality adds that additional level of depth and roundness to any dish.
The snow was packed from a previous snow fall, and for the next few hours Kyle and I tasted all 13 brands to see which one came up on top.
While we documented each brand ranging from color, smell, salinity and taste, the main criteria came down to the purity in each of the fish sauces.
I’ve been using Red Boat for some time now and when it was all said and done, it was Red Boat that reigned supreme. I had also previously acquired a bottle of the barrel aged Red Boat Blis sauce which we threw in the mix, but quickly found that we could not count it as it was on a league of its own.
Kyle meticulously breaks down each contender over at his blog, Our Daily Brine, so head over there to see where your favorite ranks. You’ll be curious to find out where the known crowd favorite, Three Crab fish sauce, falls within the list.
It seems like every time we get together, we tend to throw something on the grill, and this time was no different. For the evening’s meal, I prepared some fish sauce infused Vietnamese style pork balls while Kyle arranged a fresh salad spread to accompany the protein.
- 1 lb lean ground pork
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- ¼ cup minced Thai or regular basil
- 3 tbs Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp toasted rice powder. Made ahead of time
- 2 tpsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp finely chopped Thai chillies. Optional if serving with a hot dipping sauce
- Place some wooden or bamboo skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before going on the grill.
- Once the embers are hot by starting them in a chimney, place on one side of the grill. At this point, chop and mince all the fresh ingredients while setting aside.
- Combine all items in a bowl and mix thoroughly. It will yield just over 30 pork balls.
- Grill the pork balls for about 20 minutes without drying them out as they should be succulent inside.
- What I love about this dish is its balance of sweetness, heat, savory, fat and nuttiness added by the toasted rice powder. Drizzle with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce.
Kyle made a great compliment, Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce that served as a perfect accompaniment for the meat. Head over to his blog to learn how to make this wonderful dipping sauce.