Homemade Fish Sauce

I admit that I had been reluctant to get into the world of fermented meats. After all, it just seemed more hazardous. There is an increased risk of fermenting meat versus vegetables, due mainly to the variety of pathogenic organisms that feed on protein, and also to the lower acidity of most fermented meats versus veggies.

So I decided to begin with a simple fermented fish sauce. I certainly use fish sauce quite often in cooking and when making dishes like kimchi, so I thought, “what kind of Fermenter would I be if I used store-bought fermented sauce?!” I based my first attempt on the simple and short-time recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook (yes, I am one of those kooky WAPF‘ers). Then upon further experimentation, I gradually began making a more traditional Thai or Vietnamese style sauce (fermenting up to a year).

Selecting Fish

You can use a variety of fresh, whole fish, but due to water pollution, it’s best stick with small marine (oceanic) fish species that are less than 1 foot long. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel all work well. These “forage fish” species are eaten by larger fish species. They grow quickly, are abundant and are considered very sustainable. They feed on plankton and don’t live very long (so they don’t have a chance to collect toxins like longer-lived fish).

Basic Fermentation

At a minimum, let it ferment one month. I recently made a batch of mackerel sauce that fermented a total of 3 months– two months at room temp, and one month in the fridge.

Want to take a “deep dive” into learning how to make fish sauce?

14 thoughts on “Homemade Fish Sauce

  1. DAVID Reply

    Could you minnow Seine a creek and use those small freshwater fish to make fish paste

    • Austin Post authorReply

      As long as the waters and watershed in which you are fishing is clean (if you would otherwise eat those fish yourself), then it should be fine to use them to make fish sauce. Be careful, though. Very few fresh water sources are that clean any more!

  2. Penelope Reply

    There’s no fish makt here. I don’t suppose I can use frozen fish?

    • Austin Post authorReply

      as long as it is relatively fresh and you use the whole fish (not fileted or gutted), it should still work.

  3. Megan Maxey Carmeli Reply

    Didn’t this used to have an actual recipe with the spices? I’ve made it a couple times over the last couple years and I came back but I don’t see the exact recipe written out. Just the chart with the amounts of salt for different fermentation times.

    • Fermenters Club Reply

      There’s not really a recipe. It’s just salt and fish! Just measure the right fish to salt ratio. You can add bay leaf, lemon zest, peppercorns too but they’re not necessary.

  4. Henry Ung Reply

    just curious, what brands of store bought Vietnamese fish sauce are your standards for taste? Any reason you are adding spices at the beginning rather than making a “raw” fish sauce with just salt, fish, water and flavoring after the fermentation?

  5. Aminuel Reply

    what kind of spices you use..? i interested with the Spice Mix.

      • Aminuel Reply

        Thanks..!! I saw the picture with the spices , I’m unsure the yellow grated thing are Grated Ginger or Lemon Zest. Thank You..!!

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