Fish Sauce Caramel? You bet!

Red Boat's new fish sauce caramels.
Red Boat’s new fish sauce caramels.

Red Boat has long been the fish sauce of choice for discerning chefs and fastidious homecooks.

Now, the artisan producer has branched out into making other products featuring Red Boat, the artisan fish sauce that’s made from only two ingredients: black anchovies and salt.

I had a chance recently to try samples of two new and fun products from the company that was founded by Cuong Pham, a former Apple engineer. When he couldn’t find any fish sauce brands in the Bay Area that had the purity and balance of what he grew up with in Saigon, he decided to make his own.

Now, Pham has partnered with a few gourmet food producers to make these specialty items. First up, Red Boat Caramels, which are made in partnership with Pasadena’s Little Flower Candy Company.

If your first thought is to turn up your nose at the thought of fish sauce in caramel candies, just know it’s not all that different from adding salt to create salted caramel. In fact, the Red Boat caramels are very much like salted caramels — only better. They are sweet, toffee-tasting, subtly salty, and with a delightful savory, soy sauce-like umami backbone. The fish sauce adds real depth, giving these chewy, sticky candies a long finish on the palate so they’re not just one-note sugary in taste.

A 1/2 pound bag of 32 caramels is $17 on the Red Boat site; a 1/4 pound bag is $9.

Red Boat's new Spiced Garum Salt in collaboration with acclaimed Chef Stuart Brioza.
Red Boat’s new Spiced Garum Salt in collaboration with acclaimed Chef Stuart Brioza.

Red Boat also has created Spiced Garum Salt in collaboration with revered chef Stuart Brioza of San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions and The Progress.

It may be called “salt,” but it’s not heavy-handed tasting. In fact, the saltiness factor is fairly muted to allow notes of orange zest, licorice-y fennel, thyme, oregano, coriander, granulated garlic, Phu Quoc black peppercorns from Vietnam, and chili flakes shine through. It’s citrusy, and leafy herbal tasting, with a slight prickly heat at the end.

It’s a very versatile blend. I’ve smeared it on quail before grilling, as well as sprinkled it into a wok of stir-fried veggies. It would add pizazz to fish, chicken, pork and beef, as well. Or perk up a ground pork filling stuffed into home-made dumplings.

A 4-ounce jar is $12.95 on the Red Boat site.

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