I have been a huge Nouc Mam fan for many years. My brand of choice for those many years has been Three Crabs brand...right up until a couple of months ago. I found out about Red Boat brand and have not even touched my Three Crabs since. They make two grades a 40 degree and a 50 degree. The higher degree the higher the content of fish protein. Most other brands are between 20 and 30.
Red Boat is the real deal and is made in Phu Quoc an island off the coast of Vietnam. It is the "Champaign Nuoc Mam" region in Vietnam. The only thing it is made from is black anchovies and salt. The 40 degree is fantastic in cooking. The 50 degree is much more expensive, not quite as salty and better for sauces and dressings.
The cheapest way to buy it is actually directly off the Red Boat web site.
This stuff is so good you can literally eat it out of the bottle. Very few other fish sauces are that good. This stuff is.
I keep mine in the fridge once opened and try to use it up before it goes dark.
Oh, and they make a salt that is made from the fish sauce. It is not advertised and generally only available to chefs but I made two orders with them and they sent me a pound of it. OMG, that stuff is crazy good.
As far as Garum is concerned. It is very expensive because of the process it goes through. It is very similar to the way real Nouc Mam is made. Although I've not tried garum, I have heard that it also has a very high fish protein content. I would guess that Red Boats 50 degree is very similar.
I use the 50 degree instead of anchovies in my shrimp or clam linguine and my family noticed the difference right away. They asked me what I did differently because it's the best they ever had.
Yep, this Red Boat stuff is a game changer. Like I said, I got my first couple of bottles directly from them here: http://redboatfishsauce.com/. My local Asian market now carries it.
Edited by DrLogik - 1/12/14 at 7:23pm