Pump Up Just About Anything With Red Boat Fish Sauce



Fish sauce is something you might not think about very often, but it should be a secret weapon in just about any home chef's pantry. Although it's not especially pleasant to sniff straight out of the bottle, fish sauce is a favorite ingredient to many Asian cuisines, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand. Made from the extract of salted fermented anchovies, just a few drops of fish sauce can add a delicious note of umami, the savory hidden fifth taste, into many of your favorite dishes.

My home-grilled burgers have taken on a whole new level of awesomeness since I started adding a tablespoon of Red Boat Fish Sauce to a pound of ground beef before shaping the patties. A dash of fish sauce in a scrambled egg adds subtle saltiness and basically turns the flavor up to eleven without overpowering like soy sauce might.

Why have I been using Red Boat? I discovered this product at a seminar by Chef Ed Lee during the Cochon event in Memphis. Red Boat was developed by a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant named Cuong Pham. He had been disappointed by the availability of good fish sauce since moving to the States and parlayed the money he made working in Silicon Valley into creating the best version he could produce.

Pham invested in a small factory on the island of Phu Quoc, long known as the source of the finest fish sauce in Vietnam. His Red Boat has a higher nitrogen content than other inferior sauces, which is an indication of the amount of proteins which lend complexity and richness to the sauce.

Because of this high nitrogen level and the quality of the first-press sauce, Red Boat has become the choice of chefs around the country. Ed Lee signed on as a representative and develops recipes for the company and for use in many of his dishes at his Louisville restaurant 610 Magnolia. And since he's in Kentucky, Lee was instrumental in encouraging Red Boat to develop a barrel-aged version of their sauce which represents the top 10 percent of the factory's production and has an even higher nitrogen content. The Blis Small Batched Bourbon Barrel-aged Sauce is even more precious at about $20 for 200 ml, but it offers a remarkable amount of flavor to any dish that is in need of perking up. I've made this recipe for Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks in Fish Sauce Marinade with Vegetable Skewers, and I have to say that it has spoiled me with regard to any other steak I've ever grilled. (And I grill steak a lot!)

Red Boat is available at Whole Foods or at the company's website. Let us know what you make of it and with it, and share your fish sauce epiphanies here in the comments.

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