Fish sauce. A pungent, smelly, salty sauce made from fermented anchovies. Without it, Thai cuisine just wouldn’t be the same. Unfortunately, if you’re leaving fish out of your diet or just trying to cut back, that can change a lot — especially if you really love Thai food. You might think that you’ll never taste truly authentic Thai food again. But don’t worry. Making vegan fish sauce is easier than you think. Not only that, there is so much more you can do with your homemade vegan fish sauce than you ever thought possible. Get ready, because we’re about to change your life.
Fish sauce is an indispensable condiment that is used in everyday Thai cooking, but it is also used in Vietnamese, Burmese, Filipino, and other Southeast Asian cuisines. It is a dark-colored liquid that is extracted from the fermentation of fish and salt. Fish sauce has been described as having a strong, pungent odor and an extremely salty flavor with deeply savory, umami notes. In Thai cuisine, it’s used as a condiment, much like Americans use salt or how soy sauce is used in Chinese cooking. The bottom line is if you want to make authentic-tasting Thai cuisine, fish sauce’s importance cannot be ignored.
Thankfully, a vegan version of fish sauce is easy to make — and you can probably find everything you need for it in your local grocery store, so you don’t have to run off to the Asian market that’s more than an hour away. Though, some of us think it’s worth it to travel far for more obscure ingredients.
To make vegan fish sauce, make sure you have an empty bottle. An old soy sauce or tamari bottle will do, or any bottle that will allow you to drizzle it. A mason jar isn’t ideal because you want to be able to easily pour it without worrying about spilling anything. You will also need a kitchen funnel, to pour it into the bottle. Then, in a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup shredded wakame, 2 cups filtered water, 2 large, crushed garlic cloves (crushing releases their flavor better than chopping), and 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns. Bring it to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid using a wire mesh strainer, then add 1/3 cup mushroom soy sauce (or tamari, to make it gluten-free) and cook until the liquid is reduced. At this point, it should taste very salty. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of genmai miso, if desired. Then, pour it into the bottle and keep refrigerated. Congratulations! You’ve made vegan fish sauce.
Essentially, vegan fish sauce can be used as a 1:1 ratio wherever fish sauce, soy sauce, tamari, liquid aminos, or vegan Worcestershire sauce is called for. Vegan fish sauce can be added seamlessly to any Thai or East Asian recipe (just go easy on it because the flavor is strong), but don’t feel like you have to stick to just those cuisines — vegan fish sauce has value (and delicious umami notes) to add to just about any savory dish.
In Thai cooking, fish sauce is used as a condiment, so you can use it to add salty, umami flavor to your home-cooked dishes. Swap the soy sauce and tamari in stir-fried dishes, like this Stir Fried Thai Basil With Tofu and Eggplant, this Almond Ginger Pad Thai, or this Pad See Ew. Or, try it out in any stir-fry recipe.
In addition to stir-frys, try using vegan fish sauce to cook simple vegetable side dishes. Take kale, for example — a healthy veggie that many find to be too bitter on its own. Sauté some onions in a pan until they begin to caramelize, then add kale and just a tiny splash of vegan fish sauce. Trust us, this simple tip might change the way you buy your veggies.
You can also use it to add flavor to soups, like this Tom Yum Soup and this Khao Soi Soup, but it also works wonderfully in any soup, particularly anything that uses mushrooms. The savory flavors of mushrooms in this German Vegetable and Mushroom Stew would be perfectly complemented by a dash of vegan fish sauce. It also fits in perfectly with the savory flavors of any tomato-based chili, like this Spicy Bean Chili.
Vegan fish sauce makes an excellent addition to Asian-inspired dressings for salads and marinades for vegetables and plant-based meats like seitan, tempeh, and tofu. Learn more by reading The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades and How to Whip Up Yummy Vegan Salad Dressings at Home to learn how.
You can even use it to amp up almost any sauce! Try it out in Italian classics like this White Wine Tomato Sauce, this Hearty Lentil Broccoli Bolognese, or this Vodka Cream Sauce. Or, try it in gravy, like this Easy Mushroom Gravy.
Unfortunately, no company makes vegan fish sauce at the time, so your only option is to make it yourself using the recipe above. You should be able to find all the ingredients you need at any Asian grocery store or in the international food aisle of your local grocery store. Just be sure to check the refrigerated section for miso paste — it’s often grouped together with refrigerated dressings. Or, you can buy the ingredients online.
This Emerald Cove Silver Grade Wakame is what gives vegan fish sauce its fishy flavor and it can also be added to miso soup or salad. One 1.76-ounce bag costs about $4.50. For mushroom soy sauce, which adds to the umami flavor, use this Healthy Boy Brand Mushroom Soy Sauce. One 23.5-ounce bottle costs about $15.
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Lead image source: How to Make Vegan Fish Sauce