Fish sauce? What’s that now? How do you turn a whole fish into a bottle of sauce? I know you have many questions. Thankfully, I’ve (nearly) all the answers.
The fermentation process can last for anywhere between 3-12 months, depending on the type of fish used. The process results in a briny, pungent, umami-loaded fish extract accumulate in those fermentation tanks.
That liquid is known as fish sauce and it possesses the ability to take your stir-fries, salads, meat dishes, and pad thai to the next level.
Even a drop of poor-quality fish sauce can ruin your dish beyond repair. To help you avoid culinary disasters, I’ve put together a list of 10 fish sauce brands that live up to the hype:
10. Squid Brand Fish Sauce
Anchovy, salt, and sugar are only three ingredients in this fish sauce. It doesn’t contain any MSG or any unwanted additives. The sodium content is 130mg per tablespoon which is pretty high.
However, since you will mostly need only a tablespoon or less for most dishes, it won’t likely make you overshoot your daily sodium budget. Taste-wise, it’s as close to the imported stuff as you can get at this price.
Just a dash of Squid fish sauce can round out your savory dishes. I’d also highly recommend it as a marinade (along with other ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, rice vinegar) to further the flavor of the meat.
I loved the packaging as well. It’s not the finest fish sauce you can get your hands on but if you are going to use it only once in a while, mainly for marination purposes, you can’t go wrong with Squid.
9. Chung Jung One Premium Anchovy Fish Sauce
Looking for the best Korean condiments, spices, and noodles in the States? Chung Jung One is your one-stop solution. The spot-on taste of their gochujang paste made me try out their fish sauce and I wasn’t disappointed.
What makes this sauce stand out is the addition of smoked sea salt. It’s definitely less salty than Squid fish sauce and just a tablespoon of it will intensify the flavors of your veggies, meat, and my favorite Thai hot and sour fish soup.
Having said that, it’s still saltier than some of the finest Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese fish sauces I’ve cooked with.
8. Megachef Premium Anchovy Fish Sauce
Apart from the eye-catching packaging, what made me include this brand in my top 10 list is the balance of the flavors in the sauce. It’s a Vietnamese-style fish sauce and its signature caramel-y flavor is the showstopper for me.
Compared to Korean and Thai fish sauces, it’s significantly milder in nature, making it a great choice for people who can’t stand the typical pungency of fish sauce. I’d confidently recommend it for noodle soups, clam chowder, and as marinade or dipping sauce.
However, if you are a sucker for that quintessential fish sauce flavor in your Pad thai, green mango salad, or kimchi, I’d go with something more potent to bring out the flavors of the ingredients.
7. Suchi Vietnamese Anchovy Fish Sauce
Speaking of potent fish sauces, it would be a blasphemy to exclude this authentic Vietnamese fishy goodness out of this roundup. The consistency of this sauce is on par with its more expensive counterparts.
It’s due to the high concentration of anchovies in the decoction. Quite naturally, the flavor of the sauce is impressively sharp, making it a good choice for dishes like pad thai, pad kee mao (drunken noodles), and salads where the flavor of the fish sauce needs to stand out.
It’s like an umami bomb, so only a tiny bit will do the trick. In short, if you really love the taste of fish sauce in all its stinky glory but also don’t want to spend much, give it a whirl.
6. Haku Iwashi Whiskey Barrel Aged Fish Sauce
The tradition of aging fish sauce in Japanese oak whiskey barrels is about 400 years old. The process helps to imbibe the sweet aroma and nuanced flavors of single malt whiskey into the sauce.
The resulting product is a refined, deeply flavorful fish sauce that can take your dish from “meh” to “my gosh” real quick.
The sodium content is undeniably high but since only a very drops make the magic happen, I won’t worry about it much. I personally found it less salty than most fish sauces. It does have a noticeable funky smell but it’s not aggressive on my olfactory nerves.
The splendidly complex flavor profile combined with a sweet finish really grows on you. Use it as a dipping sauce with lime juice, chili garlic sauce, rice wine vinegar, and brown sugar for your spring rolls and steaks. Thank me later.
I’d use this sauce in any dish that calls for a fish sauce without hesitation. People who are put off by the pungency of fish sauce but want to give it another shot anyway should give it a try.
5. Golden Boy Brand Fish Sauce
My experiment with south-east Asian cuisine began with this brand of sauce. It helped me amplify the umaminess of my beginner-level Pho, pla duk phat phet (a must-try Thai seafood dish), raw mango salad, and tom yum soup.
It’s a pure fish sauce with no additives other than salt and a dash of sugar. This kind of super salty, super fishy, super smelly fish sauce is more of an acquired taste – definitely not for the faint of heart.
One good way to get your palate familiarized with the sharp taste is to use it in simmered dishes.
The slow cooking process will mellow out the sauce a bit and bring all the flavors together. For dipping and adding a finishing drizzle, I’d choose something more complex and refined in taste.
4. Lucky Brand Thai Fish Sauce
By far one of the most popular fish sauce brands out there, Lucky Brand fine-tunes the flavor of their fish sauce to suit the western palate. It’s milder compared to the “real deal” but still flavorful enough to add extra oomph to your salads, kimchi, stir-fried veggies, and pho broth.
The bottle is huge and lasts forever, making it a terrific value for money. If you are not a fish sauce geek (yet) and want something simple and affordable to up the umami quotient of your dishes, Luck Brand should be good enough.
What I don’t like about the product is how the bottle is designed. You will need a sharp razor or scissor to cut the plastic nipple off the center of the cap.
3. Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce
This brand is a staple in many east and southeast Asian families, from what I’ve seen. And judging by the taste, I can figure why. The balance of sweetness, saltiness, and fishiness in this sauce is spot-on.
It’s got a little bit of everything and therefore, can take your drunken noodles, pad thai, and salads to the next level. You can even use it as a marinade for Texas BBQ, pot roasts, Western-style stews to bring out the hidden flavors of your dishes.
It’s not expensive for the quality it offers and if you like in-your-face kinda strong fish sauce, it’s definitely worth giving a shot.
2. Thai Kitchen Premium Fish Sauce
It’s one of the very few brands I’d trust for the last-minute drizzles of fish sauce on my pad thai or steamed rice.
One or two tablespoons of this dark, briny goodness can instantly enhance the complexity of your dishes’ flavor profile.
It’s Smelly, as all fish sauces are supposed to be, but not in an aggressive way. It’s quite salty, though. So be mindful of how much salt you put in your dish, or you are in for a disaster.
1. Red Boat Fish Sauce
Anchovies and salt – these are only two ingredients that go into making arguably the best fish sauce on the market. It’s an extra-virgin, first press fish sauce which, in simple words, means top-shelf stuff. Red Boat has been a chef’s favorite for decades and rightly so.
The umami explosion and roundness it brings to any savory dish are unparalleled. It doesn’t have a bold attack like most “pure” fish sauces like Three Crabs. But the flavor of the sauce still stands out when used as a cooking sauce or salad dressing.
It seamlessly pairs with spicy noodles, seafood, grilled meat, chowder – you name it. A light drizzle can add oodles of flavors to barbecued dishes as well.
I can’t imagine using any other fish sauce in its raw form for dipping my beloved Vietnamese spring rolls. That being said, to someone who isn’t familiar with fish sauce, Red Boat might smell like death. Get past the smell and you are in for umami heaven.
So, what is the best fish sauce brand? Like you already know, it depends. Why I absolutely adore the wonderfully complex flavor of Red Boat and Haku Iwashi, some may find the sharp attack of Golden boy or Three Crabs more to their liking.
All the 10 brands listed here are worthy choices and after a little bit of trial and error, I’m sure you’ll find a fish sauce that hits the right spot.