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All We Can Eat
Posted at 09:54 AM ET, 07/25/2012

Chat Leftovers: Fish sauce

A beautiful day dawns here in Washington! Temperate temps, lower humidity. I could sit indoors typing this, or I could get outside and walk the dog. A no-brainer.

So let’s make this snappy. Your reading list for this morning:

• Jim Shahin’s Smoke Signals column on grilling fruit.

• David Hagedorn’s Process column on the joys of cooking with corn.

• And Jane Black’s story about AgSquared, software that’s designed to give a boost to small farmers.

Get ready to talk about all of those topics, and more, during today’s Free Range chat. Be there at noon, and bring your culinary questions.

Okay, the dog’s tired of waiting. But first, I need to answer this leftover question from last week’s chat:

Fish sauce: same as oyster sauce? What the heck is it? Where do I find it in the supermarket?

Fish and oysters aren’t the same, and neither are fish sauce and oyster sauce. They are pretty much truth in advertising: fish sauce is made from fish, and oyster sauce from oyster extract. Both products contain a bunch of other stuff, too.

I think it’s interesting that although most of us were introduced to oyster sauce years and years ago — and didn’t it seem exotic back then, when you had to venture into a tiny Asian market to find it? — fish sauce has worked its way into our consciousness a lot more recently but in a much bigger way. It is now many people’s go-to seasoning for a variety of dishes. And both sauces are now commonly found on supermarket shelves in the international aisle.

So: To be more specific about what fish sauce is, it’s fermented fish, usually anchovies, that have been packed in salt and pressed. I know, I know: You think you hate anchovies. But you probably unknowingly eat them anyway; some restaurants routinely use anchovy to lend a pop of flavor that picks up a dish without making it identifiably fishy. Similarly, much of the Vietnamese, Thai, etc., food that your order in restaurants has fish sauce in it, in varying amounts from a few drops to a heckuva lot. So, you’ve almost certainly eaten it many times.

For more on fish sauce, read this story from our archives.

For a great recipe that makes good use of fish sauce, try this one from Food Network megastar Giada De Laurentiis. Tip: If you don’t like a lot of heat, go easy on the Thai peppers.

Spicy Mint Beef

Black soy sauce and/or sweet soy sauce are available at Asian markets. If they aren’t easy for you to track down, De Laurentiis suggests using instead 1/4 cup soy sauce with 1/4 cup honey or sugar whisked in.

Serve with instant brown rice.

4 servings

One-pound piece sirloin steak

•4 cloves garlic

•3 small shallots

•3 Thai (bird’s-eye) red chili peppers or small serrano peppers

•1 medium (4 ounces) red bell pepper

•3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

•3 tablespoons fish sauce

•2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (see headnote)

•2 tablespoons black soy sauce (see headnote)

•1 tablespoon Sriracha (hot chili sauce)

•1 1/2 cups packed (about 2.4 ounces) Thai (purple) basil

•1 cup packed (.66 ounces; 1 clamshell pack) mint leaves

Place the steak in the freezer while you prep the other ingredients. (This will make the meat easier to cut.)

Mince the garlic cloves. Cut the shallots crosswise into very thin slices. Stem and seed the Thai or serrano peppers, then cut crosswise into very thin slices. Stem and seed the red bell pepper, then cut into very thin strips.

Cut the steak crosswise into very thin slices.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers.

Add the garlic and the small peppers; stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until they are fragrant, then add the shallots and bell pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, black soy sauce and Sriracha. Reduce the heat to medium; cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.

Increase the heat to medium-high; add the meat and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring a few times, or until just cooked through.

While the meat is cooking, coarsely chop the Thai basil and mint leaves (together is fine).

Remove the skillet from the heat; stir in the basil and mint until they are just wilted.

Divide among individual bowls or plates; serve warm.

By Jane Touzalin  |  09:54 AM ET, 07/25/2012

Categories:  Chat Leftovers

 
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