Your Melted Butter Needs Fish Sauce

Yes, that is microwave popcorn. It’s all I had.

Yes, that is microwave popcorn. It’s all I had.
Photo: Claire Lower

In terms of fishy flavor enhancers, fermented Southeast Asian fish sauce is my absolute favorite. I love a tinned anchovy, especially when combined with a mess of slow-cooked garlic, but fish sauce has a deeper, more savory, almost caramelized flavor that keeps my mouth interested and engaged in whatever I put it on. Plus, it’s already in a convenient liquid form, making it easy to splash into vinaigrettes, marinades, pasta sauce, chili, and melted butter.

Fish sauce butter is as easy to make as soy sauce butter, and it is—in my opinion—a bit more interesting. Much like soy sauce butter, it’s salty and umami-forward, but the saltiness is brinier and the umami is funkier. It also requires far less sauce, as the flavor is quite pronounced, though it is mellowed a bit by the richness of the butter.

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To make fish sauce butter, all you have to do is melt two tablespoons of butter, either on the stover or in the microwave, then whisk in a teaspoon (or more) of fish sauce, depending on how funky you want your butter to be. If you have a little more time on your hands, you can brown the butter and then whisk in the fish sauce for a deeper, nuttier flavor, though you may want to up the sauce content to two teaspoons so its flavor isn’t overpowered. You can also sprinkle in a little sugar (brown or white) to give it a sweet counterpoint to play off of, or swirl in hot sauce to add some heat.

Any iteration of fish sauce butter will be good on popcorn—just drizzle it on and toss to coat like you would plain melted butter—but it’s equally delicious with steamed artichokes, pasta, any roasted vegetable, and sautéed shrimp. I’d put it on a lobster roll too, given the chance, New England norms be damned.

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