Aunt Pat likes to show up with tchotchkes and gourmet specialties sourced along Fillmore Street in San Francisco’s Pac Heights. So when arrived with a bottle of Red Boat Fish Sauce I probably busted out a smirk. Artisanal fish sauce, heh heh. Then a double take. Whoa… artisanal fish sauce! And I knew I had to get me some some.
Red Boat is made by a Vietnamese American, Cuong Pham, who journeyed back to the “crystal clear waters off the Phu Quoc Island archipelago” to find the best anchovies and the best salt and press them into the best nuoc man or Vietnamese fish sauce. Red Boat is the first pressing—“extra virgin”—and uses only fish, salt and water.
I did a blind taste of Red Boat against Tiparos, my standard sauce, and all three tasters preferred the Red Boat. Tiparos is saltier and has a feral quality that I like (it may also be intensified by evaporation; the Tiparos bottle I used is on its last legs after 2 years in my kitchen) but Red Boat was just more rounded and complex.
If you order from the Red Boat website, a 500 ml bottle is around $10 plus shipping (which becomes very modest when you buy extra bottles to give away) compared to around $5 for Tiparos… that’s a reasonable up charge for a product that will last a long time.
I also tried the 50N Red Boat vs the 40N, the numbers referring to the concentration of protein. 50N is unquestionably expensive at $10 for 80 ml. But I can’t keep my hands off it. It has the briny saltiness of the really good anchovies I like to slather on my pizza and in fact I’ve already discovered that a few dashes on a plate of pasta turns an ordinary dish into something special.
The 40N becomes part of my regular rotation and will replace the Tiparos when that bottle is empty; the 50N will be kept in a secret cabinet and brought out as needed. If you are lucky enough to score a bottle (or resourceful enough to go to the website where it’s sold by the pair—one for you, another to give away), here’s a deviled egg recipe that shows it off to kick-ass perfection.