Stuntman And Lover Of Cheese

by Dan Bostonweeks

Ooooh, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy Fish! (the Fish Sauce Incident)

This last week my roommate started a Thai cooking class. Now, not wanting to forget his lesson between weeks he decided to cook chicken massaman and far be it from me to stop him at all if he’s deciding to cook. So, needing supplies we goto a Thai market and get a lot of stuff, and one thing happened to be Thai Fish Sauce. Now, for those not familiar with fish sauce here is a little introduction from my roommate’s instructor:

Called “nam bplah” in Thai, or literally “fish water,” genuine fish sauce is the water, or juice, in the flesh of fish that is extracted in the process of prolonged salting and fermentation. It is made from small fish that would otherwise have little value for consumption. … For fish sauce to develop a pleasant, fragrant aroma and taste, the fish must be very fresh. As soon as fishing boats return with their catch, the fish are rinsed and drained, then mixed with sea salt — two to three parts fish to one part salt by weight. They are then filled into large earthenware jars, lined on the bottom with a layer of salt, and topped with a layer of salt. A woven bamboo mat is placed over the fish and weighted down with heavy rocks to keep the fish from floating when water inside them are extracted out by the salt and fermentation process. The jars are covered and left in a sunny location for nine months to a year. From time to time, they are uncovered to air out and to let the fish be exposed to direct, hot sunshine, which helps “digest” the fish and turn them into fluid. The periodic “sunning” produces a fish sauce of superior quality, giving it a fragrant aroma and a clear, reddish brown color.

So, fragrant aroma, yes, that about sums it up. The sauce is great for cooking but is quite pungent. Now, on with the story. My roommate cooks a great meal and we clean up and put everything away. I go into the office for a minute as he’s putting away the last of the supplies. All of a sudden I hear a crash and “Oh crap!” come from the kitchen. Little did I suspect what I would see when I rounded the corner. On the floor in front of the lazy susan cabinet was the shattered bottle of fish sauce and sauce was slowly spreading over the floor. Luckily we have concrete floors so clean up wasn’t a problem, but remember what it says above, fragrant aroma. Yeah, that didn’t begin to describe the smell. Both of us quickly realized that we had to clean it up quickly. I started to mop up the liquid and Keith got most of the glass. Now, on top of this I’ve got two cats living here. As I was wiping up the liquid that smells rather pungent my little cat Polly was pacing behind me wanting to get at the smell. It was very cute but man did it stink. A couple of cleansing products later and the smell was gone thankfully. Now we have to go buy another $2 bottle of fish sauce for later cooking. Next time we won’t put the bottle where it doesn’t fit in the lazy susan though (it was just a little bit too tall).