Give Corn On The Cob An Umami Twist With Fish Sauce

While a pat of butter and sprinkle of salt is a classic topping, corn on the cob can become so much more with a quick trip to the grill and a slathering of fish sauce. The fairly neutral base of sweet, juicy corn is the perfect canvas for the salty, umami notes of this fermented condiment. 

Corn with fish sauce is popular throughout many Southeast Asian countries. In Vietnam, the sauce is brushed on fresh ears of corn with scallion oil and grilled. In Cambodia, the technique is the same, but the sauce is a sweet and salty mix of coconut milk with fish sauce and sugar. Meanwhile in Thailand, the cob is skipped altogether, with the kernels transformed into a salad featuring fish sauce, lime juice, chiles, duck egg, and dried shrimp.

To try this delicious combo on the grill, thoroughly brush cobs of husked corn with fish sauce. Add a layer of butter or oil (as the fat will keep the corn juicy), and finish with a brush of fish sauce again. Grill the corn directly on the grates, which makes it cook faster and adds a delicious smokiness that's irreplaceable. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, with the grill lid closed, and flip halfway through. The end result will be a sweet, savory, and slightly fishy corn on the cob, with beautiful caramelized grill marks from the sugars often found in fish sauce.

Tips for tastier corn featuring fish sauce

There are plenty of other ways to cook corn with fish sauce. Using a grill pan on the stovetop gives you a similar result, while baking the corn in the oven or air fryer can give the kernels a nice chewy texture. If you prefer to simple boil your corn, give it a coating of fish sauce and butter right after. Only have frozen or canned corn available to you? Sautee the kernels with oil in a frying pan before adding fish sauce. Aromatics like garlic, ginger, and scallions make it even better.

Fish sauce should be part of your umami pantry arsenal, as it's super useful beyond corn or even just Asian cuisine (try brining steak in the sauce). However, not all brands deliver the best results. At its most basic, this sauce is made with anchovies, water, and salt. Some brands add sugar or flavor enhancers like MSG. The best rule of thumb is to look for a short ingredient list and high protein content on the label, which indicates that the sauce hasn't been watered down.

Any way you cook it, finish off your corn with a sprinkling of a crunchy topping. The juicy kernels contrasted with crispy dried baby shrimp or a dash of fried scallions makes for a balanced side dish. The veggie would be equally delicious with lime wedges and chopped cilantro.