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A few months later a new "first-press extra-virgin" fish sauce from Phu Quoc hit store shelves in New York and Los Angeles. A friend sent a bottle of Red Boat Fish Sauce from the west coast, and I had to agree with practically everyone who tried it that it was mighty fine stuff, deep, dark red amber, well rounded, extracted from salted black anchovies aged at least one year in tropical wood barrels. It was expensive, even more so with shipping and handling costs, so I used it sparingly—mostly in salad dressings, dipping sauces, and Bloody Marys. Then, a few weeks ago eagle-eyed Friend of the Food Chain Gary Wiviott spotted it on the shelves at Viet Hoa, practically hidden on a back shelf among competing brands that, adulterated with sugar, water, or wheat flour, are really no competition at all in terms of quality.
The bottles are marked 40° N, which indicates the nitrogen content, protein level, and overall purity of the fish sauce. Red Boat makes a 50° N bottle, but that's apparently not available in Chicago (anyone?). At $7.50 for a 17-ounce bottle, the 40° N is about three bucks more expensive than Double Golden Fish Brand (DGFB comes in 24-ounce bottles with no indication of the nitrogen content), but Red Boat is a bit better than the DGFB "Superior Grade." Take a look at how it dark it is (bottom dish) compared to the two Double Golden Fish Brand expressions.
Here's an interesting interview with Red Boat founder Cuong Pham, who expanded a relative's Phu Quoc factory to produce and export the stuff.
Viet Hoa Plaza, 1051 W. Argyle, 773-334-1028