My dad probably was never aware of the concept of umami.
All he knew was that a splash of soy sauce imparted a magical touch to so many dishes — from homemade steak sauce to a marinade for prime rib to Thanksgiving gravy.
He’d reach for that bottle of soy sauce instinctively, knowing it would add depth of flavor and a boost of savoriness to most anything it touched.
In much the same way, Vietnamese fish sauce is as indispensable in the kitchen.
If you know the fermented condiment made from black anchovies and salt only from its use in the ubiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce served alongside so many dishes at Vietnamese restaurants, you know merely a fraction of its uses.
It was written by the East Bay’s Cuong Pham, the former Apple engineer who founded Red Boat Fish Sauce, the game-changing brand that’s beloved by legions of top chefs and home-cooks.
After immigrating to the United States, he hunted high and low for the ultra fragrant, deeply amber fish sauce of his youth. When he couldn’t find any brands here that met his standards, he created his own in 2011, sourcing wild black anchovies off the coast of Vietnam and combining them with nothing but salt in wooden barrels to ferment the age-old way. In doing so, he created a fish sauce celebrated for its purity of flavor with no additives, enhancers, or preservatives.
The maker of artisan fish sauce, Red Boat, just debuted its newest product, Kho Sauce.
This flavorful bottled sauce, of which I received a sample recently, is designed to make braising a breeze.
Based on Red Boat Founder Cuong Pham’s family recipe, the sauce is a savory blend of the signature fish sauce (fermented with only anchovies and salt in the time-honored way), plus ginger, shallots, green onions, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and organic coconut sugar.
It’s briny, sweet, peppery, and a little spicy. It’s also gluten-free.
Celebrate Tet with A Banh Chung Online Cooking Class
Join in on the festivities for the Vietnamese New Year — from the comfort of your own kitchen — as Los Angeles chef Diep Tran instructs you virtually, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 6, with an ingredients kit you can pick up at participating restaurants in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and New York.
At the end, you’ll have your own sticky rice dumplings to feast on, filled with pork belly, shallots, and mung beans — all wrapped snuggly in banana leaves.
The $46 kit with class also includes a signature New Year dish from the participating restaurant or bakery to enjoy.
Tran, who is also the research and development chef for Red Boat Fish Sauce, has been hosting her Banh Chung Collective for the past nine years. This time, she’ll be streaming from Alma Backyard Farms in Compton.
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.