Fans of Thai food might have seen a condiment rack or tray on the table in some Thai restaurants with pepper powders and pastes, sometimes with a hot pepper-fish sauce among them. Thai condiments can be challenging; Thai food, when it’s hot, can be among the spiciest cuisines in the world.
The fish sauce-hot pepper combination is intriguing. Its salty, savory and sour elements add body to the spicy heat.
The Japanese refer to a quality of taste that they consider a primary element, like sweet, sour, salty, and bitter; this fifth taste is “Umami” in Japanese, translating roughly into “savory.” It’s present in ripe tomatoes, bacon, the browned outside of a cut of broiled meat – it’s “tangy.” It’s present in some natural potato chips, in avocados, cheese, etc. Fish sauce is Umami; as is anchovy paste, or beef, chicken, veal and other meat stocks. It might be another way of saying that all of the other elements are present. There’s a wonderful restaurant in Harmon, New York called “Umami;” Our first education in this taste was courtesy of their cuisine and website.
We started making the pepper fish sauce, and find that it is very useful, adding delightful and satisfying elements to many different kinds of dishes; its useful reach goes well beyond the confines of Thai or Southeast Asian cuisine.
3-5 Fresh whole hot peppers:
Habanero, Thai chili, Japanese Chili, serrano, Jalapeno – whatever is available, and the hotter the better
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
1 lemon or lime
3 cloves Garlic
Dice the peppers. Keep the seeds in for extra heat and dietary fiber. Dice the garlic and scallions.
Pour fish sauce into a small jar with a lid.
Add the peppers, garlic and scallions. Squeeze the lime in. If the fish sauce doesn’t cover all the peppers and garlic, add some more.
Other optional ingredients would include a few drops of rice vinegar and/or toasted sesame oil.
This is very simple to make. The tastes combine; the salty fish sauce preserves the peppers, garlic and scallions while breaking down the harsher elements of the taste; after a few days in the refrigerator, the sauce has a very rich flavor, salty, spicy, and Umami all at the same time, adding fantastic life to just about anything.