No it’s not the hot new cologne going around. Fish essence is another way of saying fish sauce. Highly underrated, fermented fish oil or fish sauce can be use in any meat or vegetable dish to give it an extra depth of flavor or Umami if you will (more on that later). There are a lot of brands to choose from, most come from Chinese grocers. My favorite brand is Red Boat. Before Red Boat I bought a generic brand. But of course like most lower price point kitchen oils, it had all kinds of junk in it. I would have never thought that fish sauce would be chock full of so much filler. Fish sauce should just be fish! Red Boat is just that. Anchovies and sea salt. Done.
Fish sauce has been used ever since humans figured out that fermenting things taste good. Fruits into wine, wheat into beer, you get it. Fisherman used to drink fish sauce while out at sea to keep them warm (putting fermented things in your belly does that). Divers drank it before long dives. Fish sauce can be found around the world. In Rome it was called “garum” and in a village on an island off of Italy called Cetara, locals toss it with pasta and garlic. It is thought that the best fish sauce come from one island in Vietnam. Phu Quoc is an island that ages their fish sauce in wooden barrels that are decades old and made out of a specific type of wood. It’s like a fine wine. The Vietnamese should know how to make it, fish sauce is a staple of the country. Fish sauce is usually made from anchovies, sometimes it can be made of mackerel or sardines. It’s very simple, 3 part fish 1 part sea salt. Much like olive oil, fish sauce can go through various stages of processing. The first process though, is ideal for consumption because it is pure and suitable for sipping (try eating a couple drops of Red Boat before using it). After being diluted, the fish sauce grade gets lower and is suited best for cooking with and not just using it for flavor. The dilutions are indicated by numbers. 50° is first press, 40°(Red Boat) is second process and each thereafter has a lower number.
Red Boat is my favorite brand and if you do choose to seek some out, the only distributor I have found is at the Broom St. General Store in Silverlake, otherwise you can order from their site directly or Amazon.com. Looking at this website you may think “Ehrmahgerd! So expensive!” Well, yes. But you actually don’t need a lot to flavor your dishes. A little really does go a long way. Let’s talk Umami. What is Umami. Well, Umami is one of the five basic tastes, the meaty or savory taste of glutamate proteins or other similar compounds. Together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. A loanword from the Japanese (うま味), umami can be translated “pleasant savory taste”. Fun fact: most humans’ first encounter with umami is breast milk. Fish sauce helps to create the umami in many dishes and particularly in the hamburgers at the restaurant of the same name. It contains roughly the same amount of umami as broths. I love umami in my meats. I have included a recipe that is a guaranteed hit at pot lucks and parties. Mostly because it isn’t $20 a burger and you don’t have to go to a silly restaurant to get the same taste. I have made this recipe several times and now have gotten it to the point where I am confident it is a better than copycat of the burgers sold at the fancy restaurant. Thanks for reading my 4 part series on fish. I hope you learned a little and will try some of the the recipes! Enjoy!
2 pounds Grass Fed Ground Beef
2 Tbsp Red Boat Fish Sauce
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Onion, finely diced (I just blitz one in my mini-prep food processor)
1 Tbsp Unsweetened Applesauce
Freshly Ground Pepper
Sautée the onions in coconut oil over medium heat until softened.
Add the minced garlic and season all with salt and pepper.
Spoon them onto a plate to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl mix the beef, onion, apple sauce, fish sauce, and pepper to combine.
Divide the meat into 16 balls and formed them into slider burgers.
Place the burgers on a plastic-wrap lined tray and stick them in the freezer to harden (minimum of 2 hours).
Heat a couple tablespoons of coconut oil in a cast iron skillet and sear the sliders (~ 1 minute per side).
Optional: Bake small piles of shredded parmesan on a sil-pat surface. A few minutes in a 400 deg oven should do.
Serve the sliders on spring mix lettuce leaves topped with guacamole