You’re only one teaspoon away from making your next box of mac taste even better.
Boxed mac and cheese is a staple in many busy households across the U.S., including mine. Even before I was a parent to four kids, I reached for a box of mac and cheese when I needed something comforting, fast, and filling.
I’ve tried a lot of types of boxed mac and cheese, and even written about the best boxed mac and cheese hacks and the best hacks for making a box of mac and cheese into a fancier meal. But until now, I’ve yet to share my single secret ingredient hack for making a plain box of mac and cheese the best mac and cheese you’ve ever had.
What Is the Secret Ingredient to the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese Ever?
The secret ingredient is fish sauce.
Now for all of you saying, “eww,” hear me out. You know how caesar dressing and Worcestershire sauce are flavor bombs that make everything from salads, steaks, roasts, and marinades taste amazing? You know how you love pad Thai? That’s because they all contain anchovies. Anchovies are little fish that are most often salted and cured, then either canned or made into anchovy paste. They’re also the base of fish sauce, an ingredient most often associated with Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, though used in many other Southeast Asian cultures as well.
Why Does Fish Sauce Make Boxed Mac and Cheese Taste Amazing?
Whole anchovies, anchovy paste, and fish sauce all are umami boosters. Umami, also known as savoriness, is hard to describe but easy to identify when you taste it (or when it’s missing). Ingredients that contain umami, such as tomato paste, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and miso enhance any dish you make by giving them more depth and savory flavor. If your spaghetti is flat and boring, a sprinkle of Parmesan instantly makes it taste better. Flavorless fried rice? Add more soy sauce. Mac and cheese that needs an extra boost? Look no further than fish sauce, another ingredient with a good dose of umami.
How Much Fish Sauce Should You Add to Your Boxed Mac and Cheese?
Don’t believe me? The next time you make a box of mac and cheese, add just 1 teaspoon of fish sauce when you add the cheese powder. Give it a good stir and add back in your hot cooked noodles per usual. The fish sauce doesn’t make the mac and cheese taste fishy. It enhances the cheesy, savory flavor and simply makes it taste even better.
What to Use Instead of Fish Sauce if You’re Vegetarian or Have a Shellfish Allergy
If you’re a vegetarian, or if you have a shellfish allergy, opt for a vegan fish sauce that’s made with seaweed and dried mushrooms for that umami boost. Or try a teaspoon of tomato paste, miso, or soy sauce. The latter don’t taste quite as good as fish sauce, but you’ll be amazed at what a dash of umami can do to an already enjoyable box of mac and cheese.