I mentioned previously that I recently realized people use fish sauce in non-Asian dishes to boost flavor, particularly in Italian food, and often as an easy substitute for anchovy. Naturally, when I read this, I immediately needed to try it.

The first time, I might have gone a little overboard, as my pasta tasted really, um, fish saucey. But the next time, I tried to balance things out a little more, adding some lemon juice to help brighten the flavor, since fish sauce gives the pasta a pretty muted taste. I also added some capers halfway through my meal and decided I really liked the pops of ocean brininess with the fish sauce. Next time I’d toss in more parsley too (which I’ve included below). Becca tested this as well and was surprised to find how well Parmesan and fish sauce go together — that’s umami x 2, after all. (And if you know our family, you know there’s nothing that cheese does not go well with.)

So here’s what I came up with… If you end up trying it, let me know what you think!

Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic, Parmesan, and Fish Sauce
Serves 2

1/2 pound of thin spaghetti
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tsp fish sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more to top
freshly ground pepper

1. Boil 2-3 quarts of water with a couple pinches of salt. When the water comes to a boil, put in the pasta and let it cook until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water.

2. In a large pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until it just begins to change a light golden color. Add pasta, red pepper flakes, parsley, fish sauce, lemon juice, and capers (if using). Toss to mix evenly. If the pasta is too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.

3. Take the pan off the heat. Add the cheese and toss. Serve with freshly ground pepper and extra red pepper flakes and Parmesan.