Fish Sauce Is The Secret Ingredient For Umami-Packed Buttered Noodles

Buttered noodles are right up there with mashed potatoes and gravy when it comes to comfort food. A quick and inexpensive dish that's perfect for solo nights curled up on the couch, lunch with the kids, or as a no-fuss anytime snack. The simplicity of buttered noodles is part of what makes this easy-pleasing dish so great. But if you've got a hankering for something more (and you've already tried garlic and parsley), look no further than fish sauce for an unbeatable, umami-packed punch that will up your buttered noodle game.

As a bottled condiment, fish sauce is widely available in the Asian food section of grocery stores. But why use it? Fish sauce is similar to soy sauce in its full savory umami flavor, as well as its thin, brown, and salty profile. But where soy sauce is derived from soybeans, this secret ingredient is basically comprised of the liquid produced from fermented fish and salt. It's most often made from anchovies, but depending on the variety and brand you purchase, your fish sauce could contain other types of fish from sardines and mackerel all the way to shrimp. And while you might not have thought to add something as unconventional as a fish sauce to your simple buttered noodles before, once you've tried it, you may very well find yourself — like the fish it comes from — hooked.

How to add fish sauce to your buttered noodles

Anyone who's ever whipped up the late, great Anthony Bourdain's recipe for spaghetti with garlic, anchovies, and parsley (from his cookbook, "Appetites") knows the addictive power of that little fish when paired with pasta. Fish sauce is just a more user-friendly, concentrated version of that tastebud-tingling combination that allows you to shortcut an extra zap of flavor, with just a sprinkling of this sodium-laden delight.

But despite its name and contents, when paired with other ingredients, fish sauce (outside of its scent) is not overpoweringly fishy. Still, its saltiness alone suggests you take care when administering it, lest your noodles turn into a briny mess. Just as with other popular buttered noodle additions like soy sauce, yeast flakes, or miso paste, when adding fish sauce, a good rule of thumb is "a little goes a long way," as it's meant to complement, not overtake your coveted buttered pasta.

To elevate the dish, add a small amount (a teaspoon or less) of fish sauce, whisked into 2 tablespoons of melted butter, before adding in your pasta and a bit of its boiling liquid, which will emulsify your sauce and help it cling steadfastly to your noodles. Adjust your butter-to-fish-sauce ratio according to your tastes. One last tip: Brown your butter first, for an extra flavor boost, then finish with a fresh grind of pepper or grating of parmesan and you may just find yourself a newly smitten devotee of this top-secret noodle trick.