The term "umami" may be relatively new on the scene, but the flavors it references are plenty familiar. After all, cured meats, mushrooms and various fermented soybean products have been bringing the "fifth taste" to plates for ages.
Fish sauce, for example, has a long history as the umami workhorse of Southeast Asia, but has been slow to find a foothold in American pantries. Red Boat Fish Sauce, however, aims to change that with its carefully produced nuoc mam--Vietnamese for "salted fish water."
Made in Vietnam using only black anchovies and salt, the nuoc mam begins its life with salted fish that ages in wooden barrels for more than a year. The contents of the barrels are then pressed to yield richly flavored liquid that Red Boat refers to as an "extra-virgin" fish sauce. This minimalist approach guarantees an unadulterated elixir that packs more pure savoriness than most other fish sauces on the market.
The liquid will certainly help you elevate your home-cooked Vietnamese food, but don't let culinary geography limit Red Boat's uses. Employed wherever an anchovy fillet might otherwise suffice, Red Boat can add significant depth of flavor to pasta dressed with garlic and olive oil or march a simple vinaigrette toward Caesar territory.