Homemade Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is well-known by South-East Asian cooking fans, under the name of nuoc mam. But fish sauce is a very ancient way to season dishes, and was used by the Romans throughout the empire. At the time it was called garum. And the earliest known reports of fish sauce are from ancient Greece, between 4-3rd century BC.

Garum, the Roman version, was made of a variety of fish including tuna, mackerel, moray eel, and anchovies. In English it was translated as fishpickle.

The original Worcestershire sauce is a product that has been elaborated from fish sauce, because it is fermented and contains anchovies. Ancient and traditional British recipes nowadays often include some anchovy essence, a tradition that remained after the fall of the Roman empire.

Fish sauce is a condiment that’s about as healthy as it can be: it is raw, hence all enzymes are preserved; it contains beneficial omega 3 fatty acids from the anchovies, it replaces table salt, and it has a great taste, especially when it is homemade.

The drawback: it smells horrible. Really. It should actually not be smelled but only added to food.


Makes 1 bottle – Prep. time 15 min + a few months in the fridge

1.5 lb. (700g) small anchovies, whole
3 tbsp sea salt
about 2 cups (500ml) water
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tsp black peppercorns

Toss fish pieces in salt and place in a mason jar. Press down with a wooden pounder. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the anchovies.

Add additional water to cover the anchovies thoroughly. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.

Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 3 days.

Transfer to refrigerator.

WARNING: this is fairly repulsive, I must admit. Not only to the nose, but also to the eyes.
But it does add a great flavor and enhances the taste of a dish.

After a few weeks, it will look like this:


Then, take the jar from the refrigerator and drain the liquid through a strainer. Pour the liquid into a bottle, and refrigerate the fish sauce again.

After about another month, the fish sauce will have this aspect:

After about 6 to 8 months, the sauce will have the aspect of the first picture above: it will be clearer and also darker. This is when the fish sauce is at its best, really tasty.

I suggest you start using the sauce after 3 months, but it is really at its best after 6 months.

It can be used to season all kinds of dishes. Only one or two teaspoons should be used. Unlike the store-bought version, the homemade version is not very salty, so you may want to still add some sea salt to your dishes.


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  1. Tony Rose

    Great post, I’m going to try this as I use fish sauce quite a lot.

    • Anne Guillot

      Thanks Tony. Don’t hesitate to come back and ask if you have questions when you make it!

  2. Melanie

    Hello. I started this recipe in June. For some reason I was waiting for the fish to break down completley and I remebered something about it taking a few months .. now that I look back at the recipe I realize it won’t look like that until after I strain it and THEN that’s when it will take a few months!! Is it too late to pick up where I left off and strain it?! It’s been in the refrigerator of course and I hate to waste it, especially since it was $24 for all those anchovies!!!

    • Anne Guillot

      Hi Melanie! You’re doing great; it doesn’t matter if you strain now rather than before; if you started in June, you’re fine. So, go ahead, strain and put back in your fridge. I’ve had my bottle for a whole year (I keep it there for experiment purposes) and after 6-8 months the taste does stabilize. Good luck! And congratulations for making your own fish sauce!

      • Melanie

        Thank you Anne!! I strained the sauce and put it back in the refrigerator yesterday. I havent tasted it yet but I love that I’m already well on my way to the ideal taste!!

  3. Sébastien

    Hello Anne,

    Nice recipe! I’m going to try it !
    I have some questions :
    Can you eat or use the anchovies in some form ?
    How long can you keep the sauce?
    Do you shake it before serving ?

    Yours, Sébastien

    • Anne Guillot

      Bonjour Sébastien! (I grew up in France) No you won’t be able to eat the anchovies afterwards, because they will be decomposed (beurk!) and anyway all the nutrients are in the water.
      It seems like it can keep forever in the fridge. I still have a bottle that’s been sitting there for more than a year.
      Yes I shake it (not really shake, but just gently mix what’s at the bottom with the rest).
      You will see that it’s very different from the fish sauce you can buy at Tang Frères for example. If you have guests, be careful because many people really can’t stand the smell 🙂
      Good luck!

      • Sébastien

        Bonjour Anne,
        Nice to see that you like France ! Thank you for the answer , I will now have to find some anchovies in order to try it…
        I’m sure that the taste will be different even if you can find good brands in TF but I doubt they use so much fich per bottle.

        Anyway, I keep you informed !


        • Anne Guillot

          Thanks Sébastien! Oh sure, the taste is very different. Anne

  4. Sabrina

    I’ve had my sauce fermenting at room temp for 2 months now. It’s in a 5 lt water bottle. It looks great, there’s a grayish crust near the top, underneath looks like a murky pink. I used a mix of sardines and anchovies. Thing is, I burped it a month ago and it sounded like an explosion. I haven’t opened it since. What should I do now? One recipe says I should mix it every other day. I haven’t. When I strain it, what will happen to the gray crust. I’m i gonna get sick.

    • Anne Guillot

      Hi Sabrina,
      in my recipe I say 3 days at room temperature and then refrigerate. I would not recommend leaving it 2 months at room temp. I can’t tell you if you can get sick but I would be very careful. Good luck!

  5. Colin Harper

    Hello Anne, I fish around my area,and was wondering if you can use the types of fish I catch for a fish sauce…I’m here in a place called Caloundra Queensland Australia,and fish off the surf and rocks. The species I catch are Bream,Sweetlip,Tailor,Mulloway,Snapper,Trevally,Mackeral (spotty) (Spanish),and a lot of other species…Would be very interesting to know if you could make a fish sauce out of those species…Thank you…

    • Anne Guillot

      Hi Colin, yes, you can make fish sauce with mackerel, anchovies, sardines…I bet you can also make it with other species but I have no idea if the taste would be as appealing. The important part is that the fish needs to be small (I mean, not a huge mackerel, a small one).
      Good luck and let me know about your experiments!
      Take care,

  6. Sean

    Do you literally use the whole fish, or do you gut it first?

    • Anne Guillot

      Yes, the whole fish. Just for making fish sauce 🙂


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