Andrea Nguyen on Fish Sauce


Brief but interesting piece:


Fabulous thoughtful practical article. Thank you for posting it!

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I’m a fan of the megachef

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Interesting, though she doesn’t persuade me that I need anything but Red Boat.

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She’s who introduced me to it. More than once I’ve taken a ho-hum soup or stew (non-Asian), added a tablespoon or two of fish sauce and it became really good.

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“sodium level, which may range between 1,200 and 1,800 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. To prevent fish sauce from overwhelming food with its funk, I often combine it with salt.” WTF? I understand what she’s saying - fish sauce is really funky. But it’s so full of sodium already! How can using additional salt be the answer?? It’s an either or thing for me.

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When I’ve added it to non-Asian dishes I really don’t taste it. It just brightens the whole thing.


Yep, I now use it in tomato sauce if I don’t have anchovies and it’s great, not fishy. My problem is the sodium, not the fishy!

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Ooh, I like that idea. And sorry I didn’t get your point.


I Don’t get that either. While she does mention to look at the ingredient labels, she sort of, but fails to make a clear distinction between “pure” fish sauce and adulterated fish sauce and why you should choose between them.

Fish sauce should just be the liquid obtained from salting fish/anchovies. Period. Over time (typically 1 year) the liquid fish sauce is formed and extracted. The first extraction is called nuoc mam nhi—That’s red boat and few other brands such as Son (not mentioned in article) that has been labeled 40N (more on this below).

Any other ingredient you see, and there are lots, but these are most common —soy protein, msg, colorings, sugar, syrup, fructose) are additives to alter flavor, color, etc. and is added to additional 2, 3rd extractions.

She fails to mention an important marketing distinction as well— the N factor seen on some labels. Its not required but It’s the quantity of protein (fish) in the fish sauce. The 1st press or extraction , nuoc mam nhi, would be the best quality also the highest protein, typically 40N. That’s what you see with son and red boat 40N. If you don’t see that on the label, it’s typically 20-25N a dilute 2nd or 3rd extraction which is the vast majority of fish sauce on the market—3 crabs and megachef included. These are the ones that will have the additional additives. So if you see the words “nuoc mam nhi” first extraction but don’t see the N labeling most likely they lying to you.

Two of the brands she mentions she uses 3 crabs and megachef are the latter category and red boat is the former—so completely different ends of spectrum.

How and why to choose? If you are making prepared fish sauce for dipping or dressings, you’re going to add sugar and lime and dilute with water. So if you want complete control over the flavor and additives, use the red boat or similar 1st extraction. If control is not important, use any of the other brands with the additives.

Sourcing also matters. She mentions that Vietnam fish sauce regions phu quoc and phan thiet are renown regions for fish sauce (due to the anchovies in the local waters). Yet, few paragraphs down: “
Thailand is the source of most of the fish sauces sold in the United States. Some of them are made in a so-called Vietnamese style “

This is total BS. Thailand fish sauce companies know that phu quoc and phan thiet are renown and basically usurped the name for their own marketing—it’s NOT made as an homage to vietnamese style and is simply trickery.

Small batch Vietnam fish sauce makers in phuc quoc and phan thiet Never had the resources or knowledge or legal power to enforce its own DOP like Italians and French champagne. So with the US trade embargo from 1975-1993 there was no opportunity to export Vietnam fish sauce. The fish sauce makers in vietnam lost huge potential markets and the Thailand makers simply took the phan thiet and phu quoc name as their own. So essentially any label you see with the names Phu quoc/ Phan thiet are actually not from Vietnam, but made in Thailand in very small print on the label.

The vast vast majority of fish sauce in vietnam today is still made by small batch makers for local consumption and never make it out of Vietnam. Redboat and Son fish sauce are two newer brands that recently came market to change this and export to the US market.

Personally for me, as a vietnamese that considers fish sauce as akin to an Italian to their olive oil, I choose to support Vietnam fish sauce makers for the reasons above and because I do think it’s the best—Red boat or son fish sauce @robert


I wish y’all would reply to her.

She’s VERY approachable. I took her Asian dumpling class a few years ago and remain such an admirer.


Good stuff @hppzz. Thanks for the knowledge.

Using those brands of fish sauce might explain why Andrea Nguyen is okay with telling people to combine it with salt. Because of all the additives and dilutions they probably have less sodium. I’ve been using Red Boat and the thought of adding more salt is frightening. :grimacing:

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this article gives a better explanation than the Taste one.


I’ve found that fish sauce isn’t really an adequate replacement for salt. There’s about 7000mg of sodium in a tablespoon of salt. You’d be overwhelming your rice porridge in funky fish sauce before it could come close to being properly seasoned.


agree with this. when we use it in cooking it’s usually as an flavor booster/enhancer akin to a pinch of msg. not a replacement for salt.

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Totally agree. This is the dilemma. That’s why I’ve pretty much put my fish sauce in the back of my cabinet, to be used mostly in recipes that specifically call for it. Using both salt & fish sauce together on a regular basis is just too much sodium, for me anyway.


Health-wise or taste-wise? I don’t use fish sauce often enough that I’m concerned about health.

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