These two vegan fish sauce recipes pack all that umami and savory depth you’ve been missing for either cold, crunchy salads or warming soups or bowls.
Fish sauce is as central an ingredient to Southeast Asian food as tomatoes are to Italian cooking.
It’s been around in one shape or another since the Greeks and Romans and is ubiquitous in Southeast Asian food. Even if you just ask for a salad in Thailand or Vietnam thinking you’re safe as a vegan, they will most likely throw some fish sauce in. It’s happened to me while traveling there too many times to mention!
If you ever tried making a vegan Southeast Asian dish and felt something was missing, it is most likely the mix of flavors that come with fish sauce. Once you know what it is, the taste is very distinctive.
So distinctive that for a while I thought it would be too difficult trying to create a vegan fish sauce substitute and so I just used soy as a substitute instead.
This is not a bad substitute at all as soy certainly has that fermented, brine saltiness, but – well – it just isn’t fish sauce.
I tried the supermarkets and looking online, but all those products were either full of MSG or artificial colorings (please, if you do think there are products out there worth trying please leave a comment below).
So, with no other choice, I finally decided to try and make my own fish-free fish sauce.
After a short period of obsession which involved trying just about everything, I’m bringing you the two best vegan fish sauce recipes from my experiments.
Yes, two of them.
This is because that while the idea with any fish sauce substitute is to hit those notes of umami/savory, ocean/brine, and fermented/pungent flavor, I discovered that different fish-free sauce ingredients work better in cold dishes than they do in hot dishes.
The sweet and salty notes are great in a crunchy raw pad thai but in a vegan ramen it’s the pungent, earthy and savory flavors that really rounds off the dish and makes it so delicious.
So here are my two vegan fish sauce recipes, one for those cold salads and one for those hot broths or noodles.
Vegan Fish Sauce with Pineapple for Salads
Best used on salads, this sauce is made brighter and sweeter by the pineapple. Balanced with salty miso, it works especially well with the nut toppings and lime on Asian salads.
Yields: About 1 cup or 240ml
- 1 tbsp white or yellow miso
- ½ cup 100% pineapple juice (canned is fine)
- ½ vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp tamari or soy
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Warm the vegetable stock a little so it is easier to dissolve the sugar.
- Once sugar is dissolved, add other ingredients and mix in well.
- Put in a mason or glass jar and refrigerate for at least an hour with lid on. This gives the flavors a chance to settle. Use up to 3 days.
Vegan Fish Sauce with Mushroom for Hot Dishes
In hot dishes, especially those involving broth, I prefer to be a little heavier on the fermented flavor. This works with the heat to open up all the flavors of the dish.
There are lots of ingredients here, but even if you struggle getting seaweed or dried shiitake, give it a go with cremini or another brown mushroom and roast garlic. It will still have that earthy hum.
Yields: About 2 cups or 480ml
- 2 cups water
- 2 cloves of garlic, roasted
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp white or yellow miso
- ¼ ounce of dried shiitake mushrooms (or substitute with a handful of cremini or portobello, quartered with stems removed)
- 1 2-inch piece of kombu or wakame (seaweed)
- ¼ cup soy or tamari
- A few peppercorns, pressed with the back of a spoon to crack them
- Combine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 20 minutes as to let all the flavors mix together.
- Drain through a cheesecloth or coffee filter.Make sure to press the solids with the back of a spoon to extract maximum flavor from the roast garlic and mushrooms
- Transfer contents to a glass jar for keeping your newly homemade vegan fish sauce.