Fish sauce, a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia, is made from fermented fish and sea salt. While it may not sound or smell appetizing, fish sauce adds a complex flavor to food. It is added to dishes during the cooking process or used straight or as a base for dipping sauce.
Growing up in the Philippines, I knew it as patis. In Vietnam it is known as nuoc nam, and as nam pla in Thailand. Perhaps since I was introduced to fish sauce at such an early age, I don’t mind its distinct potent aroma; in fact, I rather like it. I often add it to the Filipino soups, seafood and meat dishes I prepare.
For years, I’ve been buying the Thai brand of fish sauce called Tiparos. Recently, I have noticed that many blogs, magazines, and food web sites are hailing the Red Boat brand fish sauce as the ingredient of the moment, so I decided to use the Red Boat No. 40 for this Vietnamese Shaking Beef recipe. I found the flavor and smell milder and lighter than the Tiparos. I see the Red Boat brand’s appeal in the American market, but as a lifelong user of fish sauce, I prefer the stronger, more pungent flavor of Tiparos.
I love how the different elements of this Vietnamese dish, Bo Luc Lac – the beef marinade, vinaigrette, and awesome dipping sauce – create a complex, yet perfectly balanced combination of sweet, salty, sour, and umami flavors. Since I followed the recipe mostly as written, I won’t be reprinting it here. The only changes I made were to add bit more soy sauce and fish sauce than the original recipe to suit my taste and to substitute spinach for the watercress. Perhaps a change I would make the next time I make this dish is in the cut of beef. I think the ribeye, a more flavorful and tender cut of beef than the sirloin steak called for in the original recipe would be a better choice.
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