Using fish sauce with a Thanksgiving turkey

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Chef Diep Tran uses fish sauce, cilantro, coriander, black pepper, sugar and ginger to make a wet rub and butters parchment to roast her turkey. “Every cook that I’ve roasted a turkey for says they can’t put their finger on it but says it tastes like KFC,” Tran laughs. The secret ingredient is fish sauce, which goes into her gravy and the porridge she uses for stock. Her book of recipes, “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook,” debuts next month.

Red Boat Holiday Turkey with Gravy
Serves 8 to 10

This is the turkey our R&D chef, Diep Tran, originally developed for her restaurant, Good Girl Dinette, and she continues to make this turkey every year. To achieve a juicy, richly flavored holiday turkey, Diep takes the initial step of spatchcocking the bird so it lays it flat while roasting (if you’d rather not do this step yourself, it’s worth asking if your butcher could do it for you). The advantage of this method is it reduces the oven time and ensures the turkey roasts evenly. She then slathers the bird with a wet rub of ginger, toasted spices, and Red Boat Fish Sauce, and lets it sit in the fridge for up to four days. Finally, when it’s time to roast, Diep encases the turkey in generously buttered parchment paper to keep the bird juicy and tender. The inspiration for this technique, she says, came after reading a 1995 Saveur article about the Southern cook Anne Scott Coleman and her mother, LouElla Hill, who roasted her turkey in a buttered paper bag. While the turkey roasts, Diep prepares a delicious gravy, using the backbone removed from spatchcocking the bird to build the stock. The gravy is finished with a few spoonfuls of fish sauce swirled in right before serving.


1 (12-pound) turkey


  • 7 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander, preferably freshly ground
  • ¼  cup minced ginger
  • 2 sticks butter, divided
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced into 2-inch pieces, green and white parts
  • ½ cup Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ground black pepper 


  • ¾  pound white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


Spatchcock the turkey

  1. Position the turkey with the breast side facing down. Using heavy-duty culinary shears, cut down both sides of the backbone. Remove the backbone and save for making the gravy.
  2. With the breast side still facing down, use a heavy-duty knife to cut through the middle of the wishbone.
  3. Turn the turkey breast- side up. Push down the breast with both hands until the breastbone cracks and the turkey lies flat.
  4. Place the turkey on a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack and place in the refrigerator while you make the marinade.

Make the marinade

  1. Grind the cloves into a fine powder.
  2. In a small pan over medium heat, fry the ground cloves, ground coriander, and ginger in 1 stick of butter until the coriander powder begins to darken and the ginger starts to caramelize.
  3. Add the garlic and onion and fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer the onion mixture from the pan to the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar and scallions, then process until the ginger in the mixture is finely ground.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the fish sauce and black pepper. Stir to combine.
  6. Take the baking sheet with the turkey out of the refrigerator. Rub the mixture on both the skin and underside of the turkey. Marinate for at least 1 day—ideally 4 days—in the refrigerator.

Roast the turkey

  1. When you’re ready to roast the turkey, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Take a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the entire turkey and rub one side with an entire stick of butter. Place the parchment paper, butter- side down, over the turkey, tucking the parchment paper under the rack so there’s no overhang.
  3. Roast the turkey. After 1 hour, remove the parchment paper and rotate the turkey. Continue roasting, rotating the turkey every 20 minutes to ensure evening browning. The turkey is done once its internal temperature reaches 165°F, or about an hour after you first rotate the bird.
  4. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest in the baking sheet for 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, saving the drippings that have collected on the baking sheet to make the gravy.

Make the gravy

  1. Start the gravy by making a turkey stock: Place the turkey backbone, turkey neck, onions, celery, and enough water to cover in a medium pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2½  hours. Strain and set aside.
    Alternatively, you can make the stock in a pressure cooker if you have one: Place the backbone, turkey neck, onions, celery, and enough water to cover in the pressure cooker. Cook for 20 minutes, then strain and set aside. 
  2. Meanwhile, deglaze the baking sheet: Pour the turkey drippings in the baking sheet into a cup. Skim and discard the fat, leaving the remaining juices in the cup. Set the baking sheet over medium heat and pour in 1 cup of water. Working quickly with a spatula, deglaze the sheet by scraping up the bits of caramelized juice sticking to the pan. Carefully pour the liquid into the cup with the drippings and set aside.
  3. Make a roux: Place the butter and flour in a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture turns a deep golden color, being sure to work out any lumps in the roux. A smooth roux will result in a smooth gravy.
  4. Add the drippings and deglazing liquid to the pot and bring to a boil, then add 1 ½ cups of the turkey stock. Bring it to a boil, then add the heavy cream and again bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the gravy has reduced and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Taste and add up to 2 more tablespoons of fish sauce if needed. If the sauce is too salty, add more turkey stock. Transfer the gravy to a serving bowl or gravy boat and serve with the turkey.


**Save and use the turkey bones for stock. To do so, use the same techniques for making chicken stock. That turkey stock is perfect for making an invigorating bowl of porridge the morning after this feast. And any leftover turkey meat will be a great filling in a bánh mì too!

“The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook” gets to the heart of Vietnamese cooking and how the ingredient is the secret weapon to flavor. Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.



Evan Kleiman