Homemade Fish Sauce

I admit that I had been reluctant to get into the world of fermented meats. After all, animals are more complex, what with their locomotion, protein-based muscles and specialized organs. Not like those simple cellulose and carbohydrate plants. And more complexity means more creatures in Nature which like to feed on recycle other expired creatures. And some of those creatures are decidedly NOT good for we living animals.

So I decided to begin with a simple fermented fish sauce. I certainly use fish sauce quite often in cooking and when making 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 recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook (yes, I am one of those kooky WAPF‘ers).

You can use a variety of different fish. I have used both sardines and mackerel (in different batches). You can also vary the fermentation time widely. At a minimum, keep it on the counter for 3-4 days in a tightly lidded mason jar. If you’re planning to ferment it longer, you will want to burp the jar every few days (preferably outside!) to keep pressure from building up. 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.

Fermented Fish Sauce
Recipe type: Condiment
Prep time: 
Fermentation time: 
Yield: 2 cups
Fermented fish sauce is a strongly flavored condiment you can use in soups, stir fries, and of course, other fermented dishes like kimchi!
  • 1½ lbs. fresh sardines, anchovies, or mackerel
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon mixed or black peppercorns
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon peel
  • 2 Tablespoons whey or pickle brine
  1. Cut whole fish into 1" pieces and add to jar.
  2. Mash fish into a slurry with a potato masher or mortar.
  3. Smash garlic cloves by pressing under the blade of a wide knife. Add to jar.
  4. Grate or peel lemon and add lemon peel to jar.
  5. Add peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, whey/brine and enough water to jar to cover fish completely. Mix well.
  6. Cover tightly with lid.
  1. Let sit on counter from 4 days to 3 months. If keeping longer than 4 days, be sure to "burp" the jar every few days (preferably outside!) to keep pressure from building up, breaking the jar, and making a smelly mess.
  2. Transfer to refrigerator, let it sit for another 4 weeks.
  3. Strain contents through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the solids or use to make fish stock.
  4. Pour the cloudy brown liquid through a coffee filter. This filtering process will take several hours.
  5. Using a funnel, transfer contents into storage bottles and refrigerate. Will keep for several months or longer.