All my life, I have tried and eaten many different Chinese dishes cooked with fish sauce ever since I was a kid. To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be in the same kitchen when my parents cooks any dish with the fish sauce (the many different brands) they purchase from their local Asian markets. When my parents add the said sauce, the entire kitchen smelled like salty, funky, rotten fish – not a very pleasant scent.
Recently, I am craving for Szechuan-style stir fry and I recently came across this artisanally made fish sauce, Red Boat Fish Sauce. This company was started by Cuong Pham, a Vietnamese refugee from Saigon who settled in California was disappointed with the American made fish sauce (nước mắm nhi, in Vietnamese). He bought a small factory on Phu Quoc, Vietnam, and now sells the sauce, made of the liquid that is drawn from salted anchovies fermented for more than a year in wooden barrels. There are two grades, 35°N and 40°N; the degrees refer to a measure of the sauce’s intensity and quality, with 40°N more concentrated.
Comparing my nostalgic memory of fish sauces of years past to Red Boat’s 40°N fish sauce, the latter is superb by miles. The sauce is clear amber; the scent is mellow, not remotely fishy and salty. I don’t mind sniffing that sauce and can tell easily that this is would be amazing when it’s cooked.
Below is my Spicy Szechuan shredded pork (四川魚香肉絲) dish, something my parents cooked for me probably a hundred times when I was a kid but this is so much better than my childhood memories of eating this dish. I know many recipes do not list or mention adding fish sauce into this recipe but trust me, this is the key ingredient making this dish taste the way it should.
Spicy Szechuan shredded pork (四川魚香肉絲)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Rapid cooking time: 15 minutes
12 ounces pork loin meat
1/3 cup shredded wood ear mushroom (木耳)
1/3 cup shredded bamboo shoots
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped scallion
2 tablespoons chopped pickled red chili
2 teaspoons Red Boat fish sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
2 tablespoon dark Chinese vinegar (鎮江香醋)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Note: This is a very spicy dish that relies on heat from pickled chili, which can be purchased from Chinatown markets. In Szechuan many cooks would likely double the amount of chili I specified. But you may adjust the amount to suit your own taste.
Cut both the pork and bamboo shoots into thin strips of about 1/8 inch thickness and set aside. Soak dry wood ear mushroom in hot water until soft. Shreds it to about 1/8 inch thickness also and set aside. Marinate the pork for at least about 20 minutes. Mix the wet ingredients of the sauce including the Red Boat fish sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, dark Chinese vinegar, and water along with sugar and cornstarch then set aside.
Heat the two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok on high heat until it just begins to smoke. Drop the pork into the wok and quickly stir-fry to separate the shreds. Cook until the meat just turns color, about 2 minutes. Scoop and drain the pork and put in a bowl. Leave about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok and put the garlic, scallion, ginger and pickled chili in. Stir-fry them for about 30 seconds or until the oil is fragrant. Put in the bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms and stir-fry for about a minute. Return the partially cooked pork to the wok and add the sauce mixture. Continue to stir-fry until the sauce is thickened. Plate and you’re ready to serve.
Where to Purchase:
Red Boat Fish Sauce
Available on their website: http://redboatfishsauce.com
Red Boat Fish Sauce 40°N, 250ML – 2 Pack $12.95, plus shipping; 40°N 500 ML Square Bottle $10, plus shipping