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Fish Sauce Recipes That Go Beyond Pad Thai

Make any dish better with a little punch of funk and umami.

Growing up with a Thai mom, Chrissy basically was born with a bottle of fish sauce in her hand. But if you aren’t familiar with this Teigen-Legend household favorite, you’re probably wondering: What is fish sauce and how do I use it? 

In its simplest form, fish sauce is made from fermented fish—usually anchovies, but it can be krill, mackerel, or shrimp—which is brined in salt for a few months and up to years. If this sounds funky, it’s because it’s supposed to be. Fish sauce is one of those ingredients where a little goes a long way—it imparts saltiness, umami, and a layer of complexity that really can’t be replicated with anything else. It smells funkier than it tastes, and can actually have a little bit of natural sweetness balanced with salt and tang when it mixes and mingles with other ingredients.

This versatile secret weapon can be used in sauces for stir-fries and noodles (most importantly Pad Thai!), in glazes for meat like ribs and pork, and it’s a key ingredient in sauces like Vietnamese nuoc cham (which also has chiles and sugar) for vegetables. Even if you think you haven’t had fish sauce, if you’ve ever had Thai or Vietnamese food, you definitely have. Other Asian cuisines as well as some Italian dishes utilize fish sauce, but you aren’t limited to those—add fish sauce anywhere you want a little saltiness, to bring out the umami in a dish, or add a touch of funk. 

When it comes to brands, the most important thing is selecting ones with limited ingredients: only anchovies, salt, and water. Pepper’s all-time faves are Tiparos and Golden Boy—they’re both great and available at any Asian market—but she and Chrissy also love Red Boat, which is next level (in terms of quality and price!) but ohhh so worth it for its dynamic, complex flavor. It’s also available at many major grocery stores; we’ve even spotted it at Trader Joe’s.

Ready to start your fish sauce journey, or continue it if you’re already a member of the fish sauce fan club? Here are six fish sauce recipes to get started with!

Fish sauce not enough for you? Continue stocking your pantry with more Asian sauces Pepper can’t live without, in her amazing guide here!

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