Punch Up The Umami Of Tomato Gazpacho With Fish Sauce

We adore tomato gazpacho, a classic chilled soup from southern Spain with a vibrant and fresh tomato flavor. It's perfect when the tomatoes are juicy and ripe, usually during the summertime. But even when tomatoes aren't in season, there's an innovative way to enhance all the flavors in gazpacho and punch up its umami: Incorporate fish sauce.

While fish sauce, a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, might seem like an unlikely addition to a classic Spanish dish, it works wonders in amplifying the gazpacho's umami. What is umami? When humans eat, our tastebuds distinguish five tastes: sour, bitter, salty, sweet, and savory or umami. Foods like tomatoes, parmesan cheese, miso, fermented tofu, and meats are packed with umami. Fish sauce, made from fermented fish (like anchovies) and salt, is also rich in umami. Its inclusion in tomato gazpacho will not, surprisingly, impart a fishy taste; instead, it will enhance the flavors of the tomatoes and other ingredients, giving gazpacho a robust and amplified umami taste.

Across Asian cuisines and for centuries, cooks would blend tomatoes with fish sauce, like in Vietnamese or Thai tomato-based soups or stews. So this is not a new idea, but adding fish sauce to gazpacho can give this dish a new dimension and open the world to new flavors.

Fish sauce does not overpower or add fishiness to gazpacho

Speaking of flavors, let's dive deeper and explore what gazpacho and fish sauce taste like. We often consider gazpacho a palate-cleanser thanks to its refreshing and acidic profile. While ripe tomatoes are the star of this soup, gazpacho can feature a medley of other vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, and garlic. While bright in flavor, umami often takes a backseat. Introducing fish sauce, an umami catalyst, will enhance and transform gazpacho's taste profile. 

On its own, fish sauce is intense. It has a complex and robust taste, high in salinity and savoriness, complete with a fermented depth akin to aged cheeses, fermented tofu, or soy sauce. Fish sauce also has a subtle sweetness. Mixed into soups like gazpacho, fish sauce itself mellows out but heightens the savoriness, acidity, and sweetness of the tomatoes and other vegetables without overwhelming their fresh, vibrant flavors. Fish sauce plays a role in many Asian soup dishes. In pho, it brings an indescribable depth to the broth, elevating the umami without imparting a noticeable fishy taste. For example, you don't hear people describing beef pho as fishy.  Similarly, in gazpacho, fish sauce adds a subtle, intriguing complexity yet works perfectly with the soup's original profile.

For those trying fish sauce in gazpacho for the first time, we recommend you begin with just a few tablespoons. Then, give the soup a taste, adjust accordingly, and savor the heightened flavor of your gazpacho.