The Unexpected Ingredient That Gives Boxed Mac And Cheese An Umami Boost

Boxed mac and cheese is one of life's most fantastic comfort foods. It's an easy weeknight dinner that is quick to prepare, and if you're super hungry, it's not so hard to eat the whole box yourself — even Meghan Markle once claimed it was one of her favorite comfort meals. But one of the best parts of boxed mac and cheese is that it's basic enough in its flavor that you can easily enhance it in other ways, depending on your mood. If you're looking for that salty, savory umami boost, hear us out: You need to add a little fish sauce next time you whip up a box.

While the mac and cheese will be perfectly delicious on its own, there's always room to add a little more flavor, and something like fish sauce, which essentially adds a deeper umami flavor, is all you need to take that boxed mac to a whole new level. A little goes a long way here, so you'll only need about a teaspoon for an entire box.

Add fish sauce to your boxed mac and cheese

Fish sauce might not sound like the most appealing ingredient, but if you love a salty flavor boost, you will love this. Fish sauce's flavor in dishes is similar to that of Worcestershire, oyster, or soy sauce. Just a teaspoon elevates the whole dish's flavor, but only slightly — so it's not an overpowering change. That's because fish sauce contains anchovies, which you can pretend to hate, but if you like Caesar salad and most barbecue sauces, you enjoy anchovies' subtle flavor boost (yes, they're usually in both).

To add the fish sauce, you should just cook the pasta as usual, then, when it's time to add those exciting elements like the butter and cheese, throw a teaspoon of fish sauce into the mix and taste the magic. If you're a little apprehensive about adding fish sauce or don't have any on hand, you can try swapping it with Worcestershire. The flavor will be slightly different but will still add that zing of umami.

Other ways to enhance your mac and cheese

If fish sauce isn't something you use daily, you might not want to spend the money on a whole bottle. In that case, other ways exist to get that umami flavor boost. While Worcestershire is a great option, don't sleep on something like chili crisp. Chili crisp adds that umami flavor and a hint of spice; it's perfect if you want a little of both. Chili crisp isn't as strong as something like fish sauce or Worcestershire, so you can add it to taste; you might end up using a little more than a tablespoon.

Miso is another excellent choice. If you've ever had miso soup, you know it packs a major umami flavor; miso has a paste-like texture, so it will blend effortlessly into the macaroni and cheese. You don't need much here, either — probably less than a tablespoon, but start small and add more if you'd like.