Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, adding a savory umami flavor to soups, curries, and dipping sauces.
But when it comes to storing this pungent condiment, there seems to be some confusion. Should you keep it in the pantry or the fridge? And does it really go bad if left unrefrigerated?
In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of fish sauce storage and answer some common questions about this beloved ingredient.
So grab a bottle of your favorite brand and let’s dive in!
Do I Need To Refrigerate Fish Sauce?
The short answer is no, you don’t need to refrigerate fish sauce. In fact, it can be stored in a cool, dark place like your pantry for up to two years.
However, if you don’t use opened fish sauce regularly, it’s best to store it in the fridge to prolong its shelf life. An unopened bottle of fish sauce can last up to three years, but once opened, its shelf life drops to a maximum of six months.
If you do choose to refrigerate your fish sauce, make sure it’s stored in its original airtight container and away from direct sunlight. And always remember to tightly seal the cap after dispensing the sauce and wipe it down to prevent any dried gunk from interfering with the seal.
What Is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is a condiment that is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It is made by first crushing whole fish, usually anchovies or krill, into a paste. This paste is then mixed with salt and water and left to ferment for several months. During the fermentation process, the fish proteins break down, resulting in a thick, brown liquid that is high in umami.
Fish sauce has a unique flavor that is difficult to replicate with any other ingredient. It is often used as a dipping sauce or added to soups and curries to enhance the flavor. Fish sauce can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores, and there are many different styles, grades, and countries of origin to choose from.
One of the benefits of fish sauce is its long shelf life. It does not require refrigeration and can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two years. However, if you don’t use opened fish sauce regularly, it’s best to store it in the fridge to prolong its shelf life.
How Is Fish Sauce Made?
Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes and is made by first crushing whole fish, usually anchovies, into a paste. This paste is then mixed with salt and water and left to ferment for several months. The fermentation process breaks down the fish proteins and results in a thick, brown liquid that is high in umami, a taste sensation that is often described as savory or meaty.
Different brands of fish sauce may use different types of fish or krill, but the basic process remains the same. The liquid that results from the fermentation process is then strained and bottled for consumption.
It’s worth noting that fish sauce has a long production and fermentation time, and it will sit just fine unrefrigerated. In fact, refrigeration can cause the salt in the sauce to crystallize over time. Fish sauce may continue to ferment a bit and change slightly in flavor when stored at room temperature, but it is still safe to eat.
For the best selection of fish sauce, it’s recommended to visit your local Asian grocer instead of major supermarkets. These retailers will have an array of different styles, grades, and countries of origin labeled as “nam pla” if Thai or “nuoc mam” if Vietnamese. When purchasing fish sauce, keep in mind that it will keep indefinitely and a little will go a long way in your cooking.
How To Store Fish Sauce Properly
When it comes to storing fish sauce properly, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to store fish sauce in a cool, dark place away from any hot areas in your kitchen, like directly above the stove. A pantry or kitchen cabinet is ideal.
It’s also important to keep fish sauce away from light and humidity, which can cause the sauce to spoil faster. This means avoiding storing it near windows or in areas with high moisture levels, like near the dishwasher.
While refrigeration isn’t necessary for unopened fish sauce, if you do choose to refrigerate opened fish sauce, make sure it’s stored in its original airtight container and away from direct sunlight. This can help extend its shelf life and keep it fresh for up to a year.
It’s also important to always tightly seal the cap after dispensing the fish sauce and wipe it down regularly to prevent any dried gunk from interfering with the seal. This can help prevent bacteria growth and ensure that your fish sauce stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible.
Signs Of Spoiled Fish Sauce
While fish sauce has a long shelf life, it can still go bad over time. Here are some signs to look out for to determine if your fish sauce has spoiled:
1. Foul odor: If your fish sauce has a rancid or foul smell, it’s likely that it has gone bad. Fresh fish sauce should have a pungent aroma, but it should not be overwhelming or unpleasant.
2. Change in color: Fish sauce is typically brown in color, but if you notice any changes in its hue, such as it becoming darker or lighter, it may be a sign that the sauce has spoiled.
3. Cloudy appearance: Fresh fish sauce should be clear and transparent. If you notice any cloudiness or sediment in the sauce, it may be an indication that bacteria or mold has started to grow.
4. Strange taste: Fish sauce has a strong umami flavor and should not taste sour or bitter. If the taste of the sauce is off, it’s best to discard it.
5. Presence of mold: While rare, mold can grow on the inside surface or lip of the bottle where there’s excess moisture and less salt. If you see any mold growth, it’s important to throw out the entire bottle of fish sauce.
Tips For Using Fish Sauce In Cooking
Fish sauce is a versatile ingredient that can add a savory umami flavor to a variety of dishes. Here are some tips for using fish sauce in your cooking:
1. Use it as a marinade: Mix fish sauce with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, and sugar to create a flavorful marinade for meats, seafood, or vegetables.
2. Add it to soups and stews: A splash of fish sauce can enhance the flavor of soups and stews, especially those with a Southeast Asian flair.
3. Use it in stir-fries: Add a tablespoon or two of fish sauce to your stir-fry sauce for an extra boost of flavor.
4. Make a dipping sauce: Mix fish sauce with lime juice, sugar, and chili flakes for a simple and delicious dipping sauce for spring rolls, dumplings, or grilled meats.
5. Use it in dressings: Fish sauce can add depth of flavor to salad dressings, especially those with an Asian influence.
6. Experiment with different brands and types: As mentioned earlier, there are many different brands and types of fish sauce available. Try experimenting with different ones to see which you prefer in different dishes.
Remember, a little goes a long way when it comes to fish sauce. Start with small amounts and adjust to taste as needed. And always keep in mind the storage recommendations mentioned earlier to ensure your fish sauce stays fresh and flavorful.