Vegan Not-Fish Sauce

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Really can't do much Thai cooking without fish sauce. Every dish hinges on the amazing umami-ness that fish sauce brings, where it balances the spice and acidity of salads to curries.

Pad Thai too. I chanced on the opportunity to whip up a vegan version of this anchovy-laden sauce because I was making Pad Thai for hubbie tonight and I can't afford 20 minutes to rush to the supermarket (it will eventually take one hour) during which time I could actually make the sauce. Also, my plant-based daughters will thank me for this.

Before we make an alternative for this condiment, let's explore just what exactly is in fish sauce. Essentially fish, salt and water. At least well made bottles will contain just that. The fish (usually anchovies) are fermented in barrels over a few months with salt, which helps the fermentation and kills bacteria, and water. So to make a good fish sauce, one must have a little taste of the sea and the depth of flavour that comes from fermentation.

A few minutes of searching online led me to a few recipes where I cherry picked from and made my own. This was what I found lends enough 'fishiness' and enough 'umami' to make for a very flavourful sauce.

In this vegan fish sauce, or not-fish sauce, I used konbu, also known as dried kelp, a thick kind of seaweed that the Japanese use for making dashi, or stock, from which they make miso soup. That brings out a bit of the sea. Now for the depth ... mushrooms are the ultimate vegan umami replacement. I had dried black (wood ear) mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and king oyster mushrooms in my pantry, and used all of those for more bang on the flavour. Hey, this blog isn't called fueling with flavour for nothing now. Even if you have only one kind of dried mushrooms, it works too.

Not vegan? Give it a shot anyway, a dash works wonders in curries, salad dressings and marinades. Much like how I use Tabasco.

4 cups water
Hand-sized (palm with fingers outstretched) square of konbu, rinsed
10 grams assorted dried mushrooms
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp soy sauce

1. In a medium saucepan, place all the ingredients and bring to a boil.
2. Then simmer on a low heat until liquid is reduced to half.
3. Cool and strain to a glass bottle.
Store in a cool and dry place.

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