Making Fish Sauce

“An Englishman teaching an American about food is the blind leading the one-eyed.” -A. J. Liebling

I have often heard it said that the Vancouver restaurant scene owes its bounty to our large Asian population, that the expansive palate of Asian diners mirrors that of the French.

Obviously Asia is a much larger area and contains many, many different cultures and cuisine types. What they all have in common, however, is the funk. The funk is the opposite of white bread, of pale tomatoes, of commercial mayonnaise and prime cuts of meat. The funk is spot prawn brains, spicy kimchee, furry tofu and my oh so funky homemade fish sauce. Or what will be my oh so funky homemade fish sauce.

I am on an Asian fermentation kick right now. Fermenting peppers, brewing soy sauce and now creating a West Coast version of fish sauce. As I looked up recipes, I noticed that they contained fish, salt and water. That was too boring for me.

I want some kick, and some subtlety, and maybe even a little West Coast vibe in my fish sauce. Here’s what I came up with.

A little warning before I tell you my secret recipe. It is completely unscientific.  Completely. Even more unscientific than my previous attempts at fermentation. Maybe fish isn’t the best choice for an unscientific experiment but clearly I am not always one to use what my mama gave me – my brain. It hasn’t killed me yet and I consider myself lucky so, lady fate, may I have one more roll at the dice please?


  • Almost half a kilo of sockeye salmon bits – fins and ribs and flesh, this is where the West Coast vibe came in
  • The salt is supposed to be 1:2 or 3 ratio of salt to fish so I guesstimated, err on salty
  • Three habanero peppers, chopped roughly
  • Four cloves of garlic, mine was organic from Klipper’s farm – I think that will make my sauce extra delicious and funky
  • Tablespoon of star anise pieces, hey why not
  • Water to fill the container


1) Open up your fish, get your nose in there and take a nice deep sniff.  Don’t skip this part because you don’t want to introduce the funk here.  Funky fish at this stage is not cool.  It should smell like the freshest ocean breeze or don’t use it.

2) Wash out a container really well and start packing it with salt, fresh fish, habanero peppers, garlic and the star anise.  You will think to yourself, “whoa that is a lot of salt.”  This is okay, salt prevents spoilage and promotes fermentation.  This is what you want.

3) Once your container is packed, pour your water on top until there is just about an inch of room at the top of your container.  If you are using tap water, let it sit out uncovered for at least an hour before pouring it in to let the chlorine evaporate.

4) Now weigh your fish bits down and put a cover on top loosely so that gas can escape.  At this point I placed the container in my “fermentation” cupboard next to my peppers.  One of the recipes I looked at said to let it sit out in the sun on occasion so I might do that tomorrow just to kick off the fermentation.

The whole process of fermenting fish sauce takes from nine months to a year so look for my grand unveiling then.  I am sure the first time I use this sauce will be an EPIC experience.

Check out this link for more information on the history of fish sauce.


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mena

    We want soya sauce homemade / part 2.

Leave a Reply