Trust Us, Add Some Fish Sauce To Your Next Dessert

Anyone who uses the word "umami" on a regular basis is familiar with the huge flavor payoff that fish sauce affords to practically any savory dish, including spare ribs and chili. The family-run food blog The Woks of Life calls it a particularly "essential" ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, noting that it also appears in several Chinese recipes. With its base of salted and fermented anchovies or krill, fish sauce is one of those deceptively simple ingredients that make many foods taste like better, more complex versions of themselves, even when used in tiny quantities. 

In line with Vietnamese tradition, The Woks of Life recommends adding a few drops to phở broth for salty depth, or as the foundation for any variety of nước chấm, or Vietnamese dipping sauce. Likewise, the Thai food blogger Cooking With Nart uses fish sauce for Prik Nam Pla, a Thai condiment with chilis and garlic. 

If you're only now discovering the joys of fish sauce, you would be forgiven for pigeonholing it in the savory camp. Reader, it's so much more than that. You should definitely be using it in your dessert recipes, and here's why.

Sweet and salty

The Los Angeles Times says the salted caramels at Little Flower Candy Co. hold "the kind of currency salt itself once had," at least for Pasadena locals. In addition to the standard trifecta of salt, vanilla, and chocolate, the sticky candies come in a fourth, unexpected flavor made with fish salt from the popular Vietnamese-style brand Red Boat. The pinkish granules, which are packaged from the leftover salt that lines the barrels that have been drained of Red Boat fish sauce, impart a "natural touch of umami to any dish," per the brand.

When married with the responsibly sourced Cambodian palm sugar that's used in all of Little Flower's candies, the anchovy-infused salt lends a more pungent note to the classic combination of salt and caramel. Little Flower's Executive Chef, Cecilia Leung, describes the fishy confection as "silky" and "sexy." If you want to try them for yourself, you might have to pay a visit to the shop in person. As of this writing, online stock only includes the original three caramel flavors. 

We all scream for fish sauce ice cream

When it comes to ice cream, chef Jenny Dorsey understands the value of combining the salty with the sweet. You might have seen her Instagram-friendly cheddar Goldfish ice cream cone recipe, which uses crushed-up cheese crackers in place of flour for a not-too-sweet waffle cone moment. Her recipe for fish sauce caramel ice cream leans on this same principle, and it proves that Little Flower Candy Co. is not the only one in its fish-salted caramel era.

In a video of the recipe on Facebook, Dorsey starts by melting white sugar over "medium-ish" heat, stirring it gently until it melts. She then adds room-temperature butter and heavy cream, as well as her fish sauce. Dorsey notes that some fish sauce brands are saltier and fishier than others, so it's important to choose wisely. She uses Son, which she describes as "smooth, but also really deep and robust." You can use the caramel on ice cream, or as a complex and slightly savory topping on any sweet dessert.