Fish Sauce?

This is Thursday dinner feature is definitely a little bit out of the ordinary. I am by no means a connoisseur of Thai food – in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s my first experience with it. Although not being an expert, I’m not sure if these are all the ingredients that make a dish qualified to be of Thai origin.

But nonetheless, the stir fry recipe I chose to follow for dinner had one ingredient in it that I had never experienced before.

Fish sauce.

I’m pretty sure you agree with me, it sounds disgusting. My America’s Test Kitchen cookbook describes Fish Sauce as “a salty, amber-colored liquid made from fermented fish. It is used as an ingredient and condiment in certain Asian cuisines, most commonly in the foods of Southeast Asia. In very small amounts, it adds a well-rounded, salty flavor to sauces, soups, and marinades. Fish sauce will keep indefinitely without refrigeration.

This recipe ALMOST lost me when I read “fermented fish”. Because frankly, FRESH fish doesn’t exactly appeal to me most days.

However, I decided to give it a whirl, since fish sauce isn’t at all expensive to buy and if I don’t like it…it’s just a meal. Gotta squeeze the adventure into a mundane life somehow!

Otherwise, this recipe has all the makings of your average stir fry. Here’s how it goes.

(recipe courtesy of Real Simple magazine)

Thai Chicken Stir-Fry


  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled, cut into thin strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 1 cup sliced shiitake or button mushrooms
  • 1 small red chili, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 2- to 2 1/2-pound rotisserie chicken, meat sliced
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime, quartered

Cook the rice according to the package directions.

Heat the oil in a wok or a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the carrot, bell pepper, onion, snow peas, mushrooms, chili, and garlic.

Cook, tossing, until the vegetables are just tender, 4 to 7 minutes.

Add the chicken, soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce, and scallions and cook, tossing, until heated through. Serve with the rice, cilantro, and lime wedges.

(Click here for an easy-to-print version!)

Simple, yes? Since stir-fry’s are all basically the same, I figured I wouldn’t show you 800 photos of chopping veggies. Instead, here’s a photo of almost all the ingredients, nice and prepped. (Where’s my sous-chef when I need one?)

Lovely little ingredients in my stir-fry pan, cooking. Yum yum.
Serve over rice, and you’ve got a gorgeous, multi-colored meal.
So it looks beautiful, we can all agree on that. But does it taste good? I mean…it has fish sauce in it.

Our verdict was that it’s definitely an uncommon flavor. Since we’re not used to it, it was one of those, “I think this could grow on me” flavors, but it doesn’t have the same comforting and typical flavor of a soy-sauce or teriyaki-sauce only stir-fry. And honestly, I think it was actually moreso because of the lime juice, than the fish sauce.

I loved how refreshingly different it was though. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to just throw fish sauce into a recipe like I do with soy sauce. But in a pre-tested recipe, I definitely trust it and am no longer intimidated.  Yay!

Some tips:
  • As always, I used brown rice. It’s one of those things where my taste buds have gotten so used to brown rice that I highly prefer it over white rice. Plus it’s so much better for you, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned.
  • We are not a spicy-food household, so we completely omitted the red chili pepper and didn’t miss it, although I could see how the spice would make it a lot jazzier of a recipe.
  • I didn’t feel like picking at a chicken, so I just cooked up 2 pounds of chicken breasts and chopped them. Worked just fine, and probably lower fat and less expensive.
And that’s that! Moral of the story….don’t let fish sauce intimidate you or you’ll miss out on a great new kind of stir-fry. Yum.
Happy Thursday my friends!

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