How to Make Vegan Fish Sauce. For a long time, I suspected that the secret to delicious Asian cuisine must be some sort of magical sauce that instantly made every food it touched more flavorful and complex. As it turns out, that sauce does exist: it is called fish sauce. Made from fermented fish (really), it has the power to give foods a whole new dimension of flavor. While it’s famously used in Asian cuisine, it is a delicious addition to all types of fare, from soups to vegetables to salad.
But fish sauce is not for everyone. Some people will choose to avoid fish for ethical or health reasons; others simply don’t like the idea of a sauce made from fish. Luckily, vegan fish sauce can allow these people to enjoy all of the flavor benefits of the sauce while adhering to their chosen diet.
Before we discuss how to make vegan fish sauce, it’s helpful to understand a little more about fish sauce and how it is used; this can help inform how to create the best vegan substitute.
What is fish sauce? Fish sauce is made from whole fish combined with salt and water, and occasionally a few other flavorings or sugar. The ingredients are combined and aged in barrels for respectable periods–often, over a year. The mixture ferments during this time, and the sauce progresses from unforgivingly fishy in flavor to nutty and more complex. The fermentation process also discourages “bad” bacteria from forming.
What role does fish sauce play in cooking? Fish sauce is one of those ingredients that adds umami to every dish it touches. It’s most famously used in Asian cuisines, where it can be employed as a condiment, flavoring, or as a component in sauces such as salad dressings or dips.
That having been said, fish sauce can add flavor in unexpected ways: adding a touch to your next batch of guacamole, or mixing some in with Hollandaise sauce, will show you that fish sauce is useful in a variety of different recipes.
Why vegan fish sauce? As previously noted, there are many reasons why a vegan fish sauce substitute might be desirable. For one, it has no animal by-products, which makes it appropriate for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. There’s also less of an “ick” factor. Even foodies can be finicky, and not everyone is keen on the idea of a sauce made with fish. Vegan fish sauce can be the perfect substitute, allowing for the flavor but not the fish.
By using vegan soy sauce in your vegan fish sauce recipe, you will be adding a fermented ingredient to the mix, so you’ll end up with the same sort of unique, nutty flavor–but the flavor will be less fishy.
Making vegan fish sauce: what you need. To make vegan fish sauce, you’ll need to assemble ingredients with plenty of umami. An obvious choice is mushrooms; I have adapted this recipe to include mushroom broth for the liquid, in addition to mushroom soy sauce. The mushroom soy sauce, as well as shredded seaweed and miso, should be easy to find at most Asian supermarkets.
Recipe notes: If you prefer a recipe which is less mushroom-y, you can use water or unsalted vegetable broth instead of mushroom broth.
Can’t find unsalted mushroom broth? Reduce the amount of soy sauce to ¾ cup to adjust the salt in the recipe so that you’re not creating a salt lick!
What type of seaweed should you use? The recipe I adapted called for wakame, which is an affordable and easy to find type of seaweed in Asian markets and better supermarkets.
How to make vegan fish sauce: Ready to get cooking? Here’s a delicious recipe that will yield a generous amount of vegan fish sauce.
Vegan Fish Sauce
Adapted from The Kitchn
Makes about 3 cups
- 1 1/2 cups shredded seaweed
- 6 cups mushroom broth (unsalted if possible)
- 5 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 1 cup mushroom soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons miso
- Place the seaweed, mushroom broth, garlic, peppercorns in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and let the mixture simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.
- Strain the mixture; return the strained liquid to the pot. Add the mushroom soy sauce, and bring the mixture back to a boil. Cook until the mixture reduces to a thickened, super-salty sauce, about 3 cups total.
- Remove from heat, and stir in the miso for an extra je ne sais quoi.
Storing your vegan fish sauce: Store in a bottle or airtight container in your refrigerator. It will keep for up to 6 months. In general, this mixture can be swapped for equal amounts of fish sauce in recipes, but if you are worried that the flavor might be too strong, add it a little at a time to recipes.
Dishes to make with vegan fish sauce: Now that you’ve made vegan fish sauce, how should you use it? Here are some ideas.
Add flavor to veggies: Use a dash of vegan fish sauce to top steamed or stir-fried vegetables; serve with rice and sesame seeds.
Make slow-cooked dishes full of flavor: Add a splash of vegan fish sauce to your next slow-cooked veggie dish or curry. It will give it an indescribable flavor which will keep everyone coming back for more!
Use it as a flavor alternative in non-veggie recipes: Explore your favorite Asian recipes using vegan fish sauce instead of regular fish sauce. You can even use vegan fish sauce with non-vegan recipes for a unique new flavor.
Get your noodle on: Make noodles such as the classic Indonesian dish mie goreng, which is often served with fish sauce on the side so that you can season to salty, savory perfection. While many traditional mie goreng recipes call for fish and/or chicken, you can easily veganize this recipe by omitting the meat.
Try it in non-Asian recipes: You don’t have to use vegan fish sauce for Asian recipes only. You can also use it to flavor sauces or dips. For instance, guacamole with a small amount of vegan fish sauce will make you a big believer in this sauce’s ability to turn everything it touches into a more interesting and flavorful food.
Do you like fish sauce, or would you prefer a vegan variety?