In the wide, wonderful world of fermentation, homemade fish sauce was one of those foods I just couldn't fathom making at home.
Ketchup? No problem.
Homemade fish sauce? No, thank you.
But for some reason, curiosity got the better of me after I saw a recipe for it in Nourishing Traditions and I started hunting down local sources of herring and smelt to secretly toss in a jar and hope my kids wouldn't ask why there was an eyeball looking at them from across the room.
What's worse is that I never really liked the store-bought stuff anyway. It lacked the umami it purportedly brought to any dish and just didn't satisfy, no matter how much I tried to like it. Despite my deep love of Thai cuisine and growing awareness of delicious Vietnamese soups, anytime I bought a bottle, it sat largely unused in the refrigerator until it was well past its expiration date and I didn't feel so guilty about throwing it out.
So when I set out to make my own homemade fish sauce, I considered myself a little crazy (let alone what my husband or anyone else thought!)
But fast forward a few weeks to when I opened that first jar of homemade fish sauce and took a brave little taste – and it was GOOD. Its flavor was complex but by no means overwhelming, it was barely fishy, and it was bursting with umami. I dare say, *ahem* it was good enough to lick the spoon.
So, today I offer my take on the classic homemade fish sauce. It's a recipe that will expand your culinary boundaries if you are a born-and-bred North American who is accustomed to European and American cuisine like I am AND it promises great nutritional bounty. Adventure and better health simultaneously! What are you waiting for? Your own homemade fish sauce and your favorite recipes await….
Homemade Fish Sauce
makes approximately 1 3/4 cups
- 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- zest from 1 small lemon (optional)
- 3 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
- 6 bay leaves
- 2–3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 pounds small whole fish (smelt, herring, etc)
- 1–2 cups non-chlorinated water, as needed
- 2 tablespoons sauerkraut brine OR fresh whey OR 1 teaspoon additional sea salt
- Muddle the garlic and the lemon zest together with the sea salt.
- Rinse the fish, then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. (If they're too big, you'll end up with lovely pickled fish, but not much sauce.)
- Toss the fish pieces (including the heads and tails) in the muddled salt mixture to completely coat the fish. Add in the peppercorns and bay leaves, then lightly pack the mixture into a clean 1-quart mason jar, pressing down on the pieces as you go to release the juices.
- Pour the sauerkraut brine or whey into the jar, then pour in as much water as needed to completely submerge the fish, but be sure to leave at least 1-inch of headspace at the top of the jar, as the mixture will expand as it ferments.
- Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for 2-3 days, then move to the refrigerator and let sit for 4-6 weeks.
- Double strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and discard the solids. Store in glass bottles in the refrigerator for 4-6 months.