This week’s dish is Salted Fermented Seafood, which could sound very strange to western people. It was first developed in Chinese civilization and started to spread in Asian countries to preserve seafood and fish better. Now, it is a staple ingredient in numerous cultures in Southeast Asia and the coastal regions of East Asia, and featured heavily in Cambodian, Philippine, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine. In specific, it is an amber-colored food extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt, and fish sauce from it is used as a condiment in various cuisines.
In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, it is also used as a base for a dipping condiment that is prepared in many different ways by cooks in each country mentioned for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken. Most are made from raw fish, some from dried fish; most from only a single species, others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish; most from whole fish, a few from only the blood or viscera. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, richer and more savory flavor. The very merit of salted fermented seafood is that it makes available to reserve fish for a very long time. Names of salted fermented seafood differ from ingredients that consist of it, and how to make it is a matter of national or regional cultural background.
1. Chinese : 醢(hǎi) / 鱼酱 (yújiàng)
It is said that the first salted fermented seafood was from China. In the ancient book <爾雅 ěryǎ > written around BCE 3c – 5c, the first story about salted fermented seafood was mentioned. In A.D. 530 – 550, the book <齊民要術qímínyàoshù > featured details of how to make and use the salted fermented seafood. Fermenting and salting have been a popular way to cook food in China since very ancient times as proven by the books and a variety of fermented foods such as fermented tofu has been enjoyed these days too.
2. Korean : 젓갈 (Jeotgal)
The first salted fermented seafood in Korean Peninsula appeared in 7th century. As for official record, the book <삼국사기> mentioned it first. Because Korean Peninsula had a variety of sea foods, salted fermented seafood could have easily developed. A number of seafood is used to make Jeotgal, for example, shrimp, fish, shelfish and so on. It was used as seasoning with pepper at the first time and deeply related to Kimchi as well because it is one of the ingredients making Kimchi. Nowadays, Korean use salted fermented seafood in various ways and eats it as a side dish too. Still, some kinds of salted fermented seafood are added when making Kimchi, and it tastes different with different kinds of Jeotgal.
3. Vietnamese : Mam
Mam is made of fermented fish and its liquid extract. It is fermented for a shorter period than fish sauce, Nuoc Mam, which is very popular as a sauce for various Vietnamese cuisines. There are various kinds of fish which are used for making this salted fermented fish. For example, Mam Ruoc is made of shrimp, and Mam Neum is made of anchovy.