Fish sauce is the universal solvent of Vietnam. The island of Phu Quoc, in particular, is famous for producing some of the best fish sauce in the world. Fish sauce is the ultimate blend of sweet, salty, and fishy. Good fish sauce is one of the best ways to bring umami to a dish and is the most beloved condiment in Southeast Asia. You can find it everywhere, from street vendors to Michelin star restaurants.
Some of the highest quality fish sauce that comes out of Phu Quoc is made by award-winning producer Red Boat. There are many brands of fish sauce out there; however the clear winner in terms of flavor profile and quality, we would choose Phu Quoc’s Red Boat fish sauce every time. We were lucky to be able to visit the barrel house here on the island (which is not open to the public) to learn about the process and see for ourselves what makes this one of the best fish sauces in the world.
It all starts out in the ocean. The waters surrounding Phu Quoc are rich in seaweed and plankton which lead to a healthy and vibrant anchovy population. As soon as the fish are caught, the first crucial step is to make sure they are salted immediately to capture flavor and freshness. Unlike their competitors, Red Boat doesn’t wait for their boats to reach capacity before transferring the fish back to the barrel house. Perhaps this is why the Red Boat brand has a less pungent smell and is much more pleasant to the nose.
Red Boat has smaller vessels which will meet the fishing boats and transfer the fish over for delivery back to the barrel house. Here is the next important step. Using traditional methods dating back hundreds of years, the anchovies are combined with salt in large barrels. The barrels themselves have been used for decades. This is the start of the fermentation process of which takes at minimum a year to reach the desired quality level.
The salt used throughout the process is no ordinary salt. The southern coastal area of Ba Ria / Vung Tau provides that salt which is very low in impurities, such as magnesium chloride and sulfur. Lower impurities mean less bitterness and no yellow hue. You end up with a product that is not only beautiful in taste, but also in color.
We were able to sample fish sauce from different stages of the fermentation process. You can see and taste the journey of how the flavors change at 9, 12, 15, and 18 months. The final product can vary in taste due to various factors such as temperature and season. The real art is mixing the batches to achieve a consistent flavor profile and quality. Red Boat is a producer that has mastered this art.
This producer takes no shortcuts. There are no fillers or additives. The only ingredients are fish, salt, and time. We trust the product and believe they are truly masters of the craft. Not cutting corners often means demand will outpace supply, and the product can sometimes be hard to find. You won’t be disappointed when you get to taste the product.
Phu Quoc Wings
Phu Quoc fish sauce is one of the key ingredients of our Phu Quoc Wings at the Bench. To make this Vietnamese fried chicken classic we also use local peppercorn which is famous worldwide for their complex and nuanced flavors. We add fried lemongrass, crispy garlic and pickled chilis to balance out the dish and add complexity to the depth of flavors.