Fish sauce is a popular liquid condiment all over the world, which is the fermented extract of fish or krill (they are usually salt-cured for 1 – 2 years before being sold for consumption).
It is a staple seasoning in the majority of Asia and is used in various cuisines in East and Southeast Asian countries, especially in
- The Philippines
- and Vietnam
It became a part of the most important ingredients to home cooks and chefs in the culinary world ever since it was recognized globally before the 20th century even began.
And the reason for that is because it has the ability to impart a savory umami flavor to dishes.
At the basic level, fish sauce and anchovy sauce are almost the same with only the curing processes having slight differences, but they are both fermented to get that umami flavor.
You can safely substitute one for the other and get very similar results in a dish.
The glutamate content of the fish is brought about once it has been fermented – this is why people can taste the umami flavor in the fish sauce.
Some people in Western countries think that soy sauce is a vegan alternative to fish sauce; however, only fish sauce has umami and soy sauce does not.
Besides being a favorite seasoning to most dishes, fish sauce is also used as a primary ingredient for making dipping sauces.
Anchovy sauce is made from anchovies (a small, common forage fish of the family Engraulidae), which is gutted in brine and cured for several months to a few years.
This causes the cured anchovies’ to turn deep grey and creates its characteristic strong flavor.
My favorite anchovy sauce brand is this bottle from Chung Jung One:
On the other hand, the Spanish boquerones, which is anchovies pickled in vinegar and has a milder flavor, retains the color of the anchovies’ flesh.
The ancient Romans used anchovies as the basis for their fermented fish sauce called “garum.”
Garum was specially developed for long-distance trading and commerce and was widely known across Europe and Africa for its long shelf life and was mass-produced at an industrial level.
Anchovies were also eaten raw as an aphrodisiac.
Today, they are primarily used as a fermented condiment to add flavor to various dishes.
Its strong flavor also makes it favorable to become a prime ingredient in making sauces and condiments such as Gentleman’s Relish, Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, remoulade, other fish sauces, and sometimes in selected Café de Paris butter.
There are also anchovy fillets sold for domestic use that are packed in salt or oil in small glass or tin jars, or are sometimes rolled around capers.
Besides anchovy sauce and fillets they are also made into anchovy paste.
Some fishermen also use anchovies as bait in order to catch larger fish like sea bass and tuna.
It is because of the curing process that anchovies undergo that creates its strong taste and umami.
The Italian fresh anchovies known as “alici” are milder in flavor compared to other anchovies.
Anchovy fish sauce is as much in demand globally as other types of fish sauce, as a matter of fact, the success of fish sauce makers are solely attributed to their trade profession.
Their Differences and Similarities
Fish sauce and anchovy sauce are almost the same with only the curing processes having slight differences.
And as for their taste, well, it varies from place to place as fish sauce and anchovy sauce have different preparation techniques, but the strong flavor is indistinguishable.
Asian and Southeast Asian fish sauce, however, have the special umami flavor as the fish they use to make the fish sauce have glutamate content in them and may taste better than the anchovy sauce (it also varies from experience).
Can I substitute anchovy sauce for fish sauce?
If you wish to know whether you can substitute anchovy sauce for fish sauce, then the answer is “yes,” you can use them interchangeably on some dishes that may require either of them as one of its ingredients.
Ingredients and Manufacturing
Historically fish sauces were made using different species of fish and shellfish, and in some cases, manufacturers either used the entire fish or just used its blood or viscera.
Today fish sauces are simply cured in salt and the fish types manufacturers use include anchovy, shrimp, mackerel, or other fish species that have high oil content and also have a strong flavor.
Some manufacturers use herbs and spices in creating their version of the fish sauce.
Normally, modern fish sauces use fish or shellfish and mix them with salt at 10% – 30% concentration in order to cure them.
The salted mixture is then placed in a specially designed container for curing, sealed and cured for up to 2 years.
In some cases, the same fish that was cured will be used over and over again several times and they’ll use the re-extraction method which removes the fish mass and then boils it.
Caramel, molasses, or roasted rice is added to the second-pass fish sauces in order to improve the visual appearance and add taste to it.
They are thinner and less costly. Another method used by some manufacturers in order to make more fish sauce is by watering down a first-press fish sauce.
This causes the fish sauce to have a pronounced fishy taste as they’ve only been briefly fermented (the anchovies are actually cured immediately after they were caught).
If the fermentation process is done like it’s supposed to be, then the fish sauce will have a nuttier, richer and more savory flavor.
Recipes with Fish Sauce
- Batchoy (Filipino chicken or pork soup with fish sauce)
- Thai Steak and Noodle Salad
- Braised Lamb Shanks with Fish Sauce
- Shrimp Curry with Chickpeas and Cauliflower
- Grilled Chicken Skewers With Asian Pear Slaw
- Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Orange-Sesame Asparagus and Rice
- Glazed Chicken Thighs
- Aromatic Shrimp and Noodle Medicine Soup
- Red Snapper with Sambal
- Migas Fried Rice
Also read: what types of fish are used for sushi?