Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

How to Use Fish Sauce

When Portland restauranteur and chef Andy Ricker recently announced that most of his Pok Pok eateries would be closing, the sky darkened. The Thai and Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant had become something of an American empire, with popular locations on either coast.

It was an especially hard blow for fish sauce enthusiasts. Pok Pok’s most iconic dish is chicken wings made with the Asian-born distillate. The meaty, flavorful wings captured a devout following not unlike a Shake Shack burger or brisket from Franklin Barbecue. And they wouldn’t have launched the franchise to the American culinary foreground without good fish sauce.

Which begs the question: How else can you harness the unique umami notes inherent to fish sauce? The complex condiment primarily made from anchovies goes way, way back and just about every major Asian country has its own take on the stuff. The fermented and highly aromatic liquid is available at most supermarkets but it’s advised to peruse a specialty store or Asian import store to get your hands on higher-end, more complex versions.

Pok Pok Fish Sauce Wings

While fish sauce no doubt makes chicken wings way more interesting, we’re here to tell you that the uses extend way beyond poultry. Being such a popular Asian ingredient, there are scores of options. Red Boat has become quite popular and gets high marks from many of the leading culinary outlets. We also suggest Megachef and Dragon’s Cuisine.

From pasta sauces to cocktails, there are many good homes for the dynamic culinary wanderer otherwise known as fish sauce.

Other Sauces

Fish sauce can do wonders to a variety of other fellow liquids. For a more memorable salad, use it like a vinaigrette, combining with some balsamic and mixing into the greens. Those who’ve imparted brininess to their red pasta sauces by way of diced olives or anchovies will appreciate what a little fish sauce can do. It’s a great way to take your favorite Bolognese south to Sicily and open it up to not just meatballs, but the possibility of accompanying seafood.

Try adding it liberally to store bought curry mixes or even in smaller portions in guacamole or salsa. Shoot, try a bit mixed into your favorite barbecue sauce or drizzled over some coleslaw or roasted potatoes. Next time you’re working with shellfish, oysters especially, make sure you have some fish sauce at the ready for dipping. 


The real heroics occur around vegetables. Fish sauce can turn boring old cabbage or bok choy into headliners. And because it’s such an involved condiment, you rarely need anything else. Simply steam or sautée something like kale or collard greens and add a little fish sauce to taste. The flavor profile of fish sauce goes particularly well with earthier items like mushrooms, especially shiitake and bigger, grill-able options like portobello.

Substitute fish sauce in places you’d typically use soy sauce, like dippers for salad rolls or edamame. It pairs beautifully with bitterness of radicchio and savory notes of fresh parmesan. Try a little worked into roasted butternut squash or zucchini.


Fish sauce is potent stuff but in the right cocktail, it can settle in to its surroundings beautifully. A good Bloody Mary is a great place to start, a strong and savory drink built around complementary flavors like tomato and pepper. Following the tomato theme, try a healthy drizzle mixed into your next Michelada and throw some fresh cilantro and lime in the mix. It’s also fun as a whisky chaser to use in place of a pickle back.

It’s also right at home with many agave-based spirits like tequila and mezcal. There is no shortage of margarita recipes out there so instead focus on angles that might work better with Asian cooking. Think watermelon, lemongrass, and tropical fruit flavors as you experiment. Fish sauce also makes for a nice savory topper to a citrusy drink like the Paloma. 

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
How to soften butter: 4 easy ways (no microwave necessary)
No microwave? No problem! Soften butter quickly and easily with these tips
sliced butter

Let me guess — you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the refrigerator. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Softening butter is a crucial step in many recipes, and if you’ve forgotten to take it out of the fridge soon enough, your batter or dough will be full of gross lumps and chunks. The most common solution to this is to go straight to the microwave. That said, what if you don’t have one or prefer not to use it? 

Fortunately, there are several ways to soften butter quickly without one. With just a few common household items, it can be done in a blink of an eye.

Read more
Give Mom what she really wants with one of these 10 Mother’s Day cocktails
Make it a Mother's Day to remember with one of these delicious drinks
Gulab Byblos

When it comes to Mother's Day, is there a better way to bond with your mother than over a fine cocktail or two? For most of us here at The Manual, the answer is a resounding “No, of course not.” On the day dedicated to the person who brought you into the world or raised you, apart from serving a delicious breakfast and presenting her with a thoughtful gift, there’s really only one thing left to do: drink.

Below, you’ll find a variety of Mother's Day cocktail ideas. No matter what your mom likes, there’s a little something on our list for her.

Read more
It’s time to learn how to use a French press coffee maker
This classic method really does make the best brew
Using a French press

If you find yourself bored with coffee pods or sick of that old and stale coffee pot, it may be time to revisit a classic -- the French press. While other methods may tempt us with their convenience, there's truly no better coffee flavor than that which comes from this beautifully old-fashioned method.

When used properly, a French press coffee maker yields the perfect cup of joe -- unless you're using crappy coffee beans, then nothing can save you. When used poorly, though, it can easily ruin the brew, sending coffee grounds swirling into the liquid and destroying your beverage, your mood, and your morning. Many a coffee enthusiast out there has never even tried a hand at the French press given the device's perilous reputation. (If you need more proof, just search "French press fails" on YouTube -- there are way more than you might think.)
How to use a French press
First, you need to make sure you have the right ratio of water to coffee (we'll talk about the best coffee for French press brewing soon). We recommend one ounce of ground coffee to 16 fluid ounces of water (that's about two generous tablespoons of coffee). Make sure the water is heated to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a good food thermometer (meat thermometers work great for this), bring water to a simmer, then let it rest for two or three minutes. But really, we recommend picking up a thermometer.

Read more