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Fish paste

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Making fish paste in Cambodia

Fish paste is fish which has been chemically broken down by a fermentation process until it reaches the consistency of a soft creamy purée or paste. Alternatively it refers to cooked fish which has been physically broken down by pounding, grinding, pressing, mincing, blending, and/or sieving, until it reaches the consistency of paste.[1] The term can be applied also to shellfish pastes, such as shrimp paste or crab paste.

Fish paste is used as a condiment or seasoning to add flavour to food,[2] or in some cases to complement a dish. Generally, fish paste is reduced to a thick, rich concentrate, which has usually been cooked for a long time. It can be contrasted with fish sauce, which is like a fish paste except it is not cooked for so long, is a thick liquid rather than a concentrated paste, and may include seasonings and other flavorings.


"Preservation of marine products is of great importance to the coastal poor. Preserved fish products ensure adequate protein during low fishing periods. Subsistence fishers use their abundant catch of small fish to make fermented fish paste and smoked fish with the assistance of family members."[3]

Traditional pastes[edit]

Process Name Image Origin Description
Fermented Aligue
Philippines A fermented paste derived from the salted roe and aligue (reddish or orange crab "fat") of river swimming crabs or Asian shore crabs (talangka) sautéed in garlic and preserved in oil. It is traditionally sold in bottles and can be eaten over white rice, used as a condiment, or used as an ingredient in various seafood dishes.[4][5]
Philippines A class of condiments in the Philippines made from salted and fermented fish, krill, shrimp, or other seafood. The excess liquids made from the process is also used to make a fish sauce called patís. Also known by other names depending on the ingredients used.[6]
Philippines A Filipino dish consisting of cooked rice and whole raw shrimp fermented with salt and angkak (red yeast rice). Depending on the salt content, it is fermented for several days to weeks. It can be eaten as is with rice or used as a dipping sauce for grilled or fried dishes.[7]
Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
A pungent paste made by crushing the roe and liver of various fishes such as mackerel,[8] tuna, and eel, and then fermenting in brine.[9] It reached its greatest popularity in the Roman world,[10] where it was both a staple to the common diet and a luxury for the wealthy. After the liquid garum was ladled off of the top of the mixture, the remains of the fish, called allec, was used by the poorest classes to flavour their staple porridge. Among the rich, the best garum fetched extraordinarily high prices.[11]
Ngachin Burma Ngachin, lit.'sour fish', is a fish paste product consisting of raw freshwater fish, which is pressed with a mixture of cooked rice gruel and salt as it ferments, and is traditionally packed in taungzun leaves
Ngapi Burma Ngapi, lit.'compressed fish', is a generic term for pungent pastes made of either fish or shrimp. It is usually made from the fermentation of salted ground fish or shrimp, which is then sun dried. Ngapi is a main ingredient of Lower Burmese cooking, used as a condiment and additive in most dishes. Raw ngapi is not intended for direct consumption.
Padaek Laos Made from pickled or fermented fish that has been cured. Often known as Laotian fish sauce, it is a thicker, seasoned fish sauce that often contains chunks of fish in it. The fermentation takes a long time, giving padaek a rich aroma similar to fine cheeses like Époisses. Unlike other versions of fish sauce in Southeast Asia, padaek is made from freshwater fish, owing to the landlocked nature of the region where it originated.
Petis ikan Indonesia Salty dark fish paste.
Prahok Cambodia Usually made of crushed, salted and fermented mud fish, prahok originated as a way of preserving fish during the longer months when fresh fish was not available in abundant supply. Because of its saltiness and strong flavor, it was used as an addition to many meals, such as soups. Prahok has a strong and distinct smell, earning the nickname Cambodian Cheese.[12] Prahok is usually eaten with rice in the countryside or poorer regions.
Shrimp paste Southeast Asia Made from fermented ground shrimp, sun dried and either cut into fist-sized rectangular blocks or sold in bulk. An essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Shrimp paste can be found in many meals in Southeast Asia, often as an ingredient in dip for fish or vegetables.
Physically processed Anchovette England The main ingredient includes a fish mixture of pilchards, mackerel, and anchovies in various proportions, the rest being water, salt, etc. It contains between 82 and 90 percent fish, and is eaten on warm toast, in snacks, and on sandwiches. Anchovette is one of range of products sold internationally, by companies independently operating under the Peck's brand. Countries of operation include the UK, South Africa, and Australia.
Gentleman's Relish England Gentleman's Relish, a type of anchovy paste also known as Patum Peperium, was created in 1828 by an Englishman called John Osborn.[13] It contains anchovies (minimum 60%), butter, herbs and spices. Today, the secret recipe is withheld from all but one employee by the licensed manufacturer, Elsenham Quality Foods.[13] Traditionally eaten thinly spread on slices of buttered white-bread toast, either on its own, or with cucumber, or "Mustard and cress" sprouts.

Shipham's Salmon Paste is another long-established British fish paste, and other varieties are common, including anchovy, shrimp, and bloater (based on small smoked herrings). British fish pastes are commonly used as a spread inside white-bread sandwiches, eaten for lunch or as part of afternoon tea, a light meal consumed around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and consisting of a variety of quartered sandwiches, small cakes, and scones, served with hot Chinese or Indian tea. Similar fish pastes, including Anchovette, and Salmon and Lobster, are still available in Australian supermarkets, and were a staple for children's school lunches, sandwiches brought from home, during the 1950s and 1960s. In Australia, similar meat-based concoctions, in chicken and ham, and devilled (pepper-spiced ham), are still made by Peck's, which began manufacturing in 1904.

Jakoten Japan Made from small white fish caught nearby that are ground and blended into a paste with seasoning and then fried. The heads, viscera and scales of the fish are removed. Then, the remaining parts are minced including the bones. Seasoning is added and the minced fish is ground into a paste. Next, it is shaped into rectangular patties by using a wood frame. The patties are fried several minutes until they become brownish color. Has been used in Japan since the Edo period.
Kamaboko Japan Made from pureed white fish, combined with additives such as MSG, formed into distinctive loaves and then steamed until fully cooked and firm. The steamed loaves are sliced and served unheated with various dipping sauces or sliced and included in hot soups, one-dish meals, or noodle dishes. Typically sold in semicylindrical loaves. Some kamaboko include artistic patterns. Red-skinned and white kamaboko are typically served at celebratory and holiday meals, as red and white are considered to bring good luck. Has been made since the 14th century.
Pissalat France The name comes from peis salat in Niçard, meaning "salted fish".[14] It is made from anchovy puree flavoured with cloves, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper mixed with olive oil. Used for flavouring hors d'oeuvres, fish, cold meats and the local specialty pissaladière.
Poacher's Relish England A tangy relish made with smoked salmon and lemon zest. Made by the same manufacturer that makes Gentlemen's Relish, it is usually eaten with toast, crackers or blinis.
Pudpod Philippines A flat patty made from pounded fish which is then smoked. Usually made with anchovies, but can also be made with larger fish like tuna or shark.[15]
Surimi Japan
East Asia
Literally ground meat. Typically made from white fish, such as pollock or hake, that is pulverized to a thick paste and cooked until it becomes dense and firm. The term can also be applied to similar food products made from meat, like chicken and pork. Surimi is widely used in Asian cultures and is available in many shapes, forms, and textures. Surimi is a popular ingredient in hotpot, soups, stir-fries, and even deep-fried and eaten as a snack. It is often further processed to mimic the texture and color of the meat of lobster, crab and other shellfish. The most common surimi product in the Western market is imitation crab meat, however fish balls and fish cakes made from surimi are also common in conventional and Asian supermarkets in major cities. The process for making surimi was developed in many areas of East Asia over several centuries though the exact history and origins of this product is unclear. In China the food was used to make fish balls and as ingredients in a thick soup called Geng. In Japan it is used to make kamaboko, fish sausage, or cured surimi products. Currently, 2–3 million tonnes of fish, amounting to 2–3 percent of the world fisheries supply, are used for the production of surimi and surimi-based products, often unsorted bycatch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Larousse Gastronomique. Hamlyn. 2000. p. 949. ISBN 0-600-60235-4.
  2. ^ "Merriam-Webster: Definition of condiment". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  3. ^ FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture (2008) Globalisation and Fisheries: Proceedings of an OECD-FAO Workshop Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Publishing. ISBN 978-92-64-03776-2.
  4. ^ Edgie Polistico (2017). Philippine Food, Cooking, & Dining Dictionary. Anvil Publishing, Incorporated. ISBN 9786214200870.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Pineda, Maida; Lopez-Quimpo, Candice. "50 dishes that define the Philippines". CNN travel. CNN. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  6. ^ National Research Council (U.S.). Panel on the Applications of Biotechnology to Traditional Fermented Foods (1992). Applications of biotechnology to traditional fermented foods: report of an ad hoc panel of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development. National Academies. pp. 132–133.
  7. ^ Olympia, Minderva S.D. (1992). "Fermented Fish Products in the Philippines". Applications of Biotechnology to Traditional Fermented Foods: Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development. National Academy Press. pp. 131–139. ISBN 9780309046855.
  8. ^ Robert Curtis (Curtis 1983) showed that in most surviving tituli picti inscribed on amphorae, where the fish ingredient is shown, the fish is mackerel.
  9. ^ (R. Zahn), Real-Encyclopaedia der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. "Garum", 1st Series 7 (1912) pp. 841-849.
  10. ^ As with garlic in modern times, not every Roman was addicted to garum: aside from Seneca (see below), Martial congratulates a friend on keeping up amorous advances to a girl who had indulged in six helpings of it, and a surviving fragment of Plato Comicus spoke of "putrid garum", noted by Robert I. Curtis, "In Defense of Garum" The Classical Journal 78.3 (February–March 1983, pp. 232-240) p. 232; Curtis notes the modern change in Western taste effected by familiarity with the Vietnamese nuoc-mam.
  11. ^ Toussaint-Samat, The History of Food, revised ed. 2009, p. 338f.
  12. ^ Star Chefs Five main Cambodian ingredients Accessed July 21, 2007
  13. ^ a b Gentleman's Relish: And Other English Culinary Oddities (A Gourmet's Guide). Warrington: National Trust Books (Anova Books). 2007-06-17. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-1-905400-55-3.
  14. ^ Benvenuto, Alex. Les cuisines du Pays niçois, Serre éditeur. Nice: 2001. ISBN 2-86410-262-5
  15. ^ Boy Abunda (8 November 2006). "Treats for the taste buds". PhilStar Global. Retrieved 30 October 2018.