I love fish sauce. Everything about this amber liquid (patis, as my Filipino family calls it) is savory, fragrant, and reminds me of home. Growing up, there was always a bottle of Rufina patis with the recognizable green and white label on our table. My parents added patis to sour tamarind stews like pork sinigang while cooking, and the bottle was always available to grab if I wanted a bit more on the side while I was eating the finished dish.
My auntie Rina would dip her green apple slices in patis, which I later learned was a subtle ode to the beloved Filipino snack of dipping fresh green mango into bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). So the sweet-savory combination of fruit and fish has always made sense to me, long before the age of adding salty, fermented condiments to desserts like miso banana bread and soy sauce chocolate cake, and long before I decided to put a recipe for calamansi and fish sauce shortbread in my cookbook, Mayumu.
Calamansi is a tiny Philippine fruit that tastes like a hybrid of lemon, lime, and orange. As a kid, the combination of freshly squeezed calamansi juice and patis was my favorite sawsawan (dipping sauce) to add to lugaw—a Filipino rice porridge similar to congee. Used in tandem with patis, it’s a wonderfully sour and salty blend.
In my mind, the perfect recipe is about striking a balance in flavor across the spectrum of our five tastes, and experimenting with the umami and salty aspects of patis can help temper the sweetness of a rich dessert. The key to using the condiment effectively is achieving the right ratios so that the ingredient doesn’t overpower the other elements of your cakes, caramels, and cookies.
For my Stamped Calamansi-Fish Sauce Shortbread recipe, the patis comes into play in the glaze. The cookie dough just has a hint of vanilla extract, which makes the resulting shortbread a rich and buttery vessel for the bright and briny flavors in the glaze. By mixing calamansi juice, fresh lime zest, and a dash of patis with sifted powdered sugar, it becomes sweet, sour, and slightly funky, all at the same time. Instead of masking the fishy flavor of patis, the duo of citrus and sugar just tempers it so that the patis doesn’t dominate your senses. Brushing this glaze on top of the shortbread, you get a nice whiff of every component working together. Once the glaze hardens and you bite into a cookie, it’s decidedly sweet enough to fulfill your dessert craving, but salty enough that you’ll want more than one.
The fish sauce in this recipe is a great excuse to break out your favorite fish-shaped cookie cutter, and maybe even pick up a cookie stamp that mimics the shape of scales, like the ones that Nordic Ware makes. In addition to making your fish shortbread look even more fish-like, stamping the dough creates pockets for the glaze to collect.
Patis has a distinct aroma, but I’d urge you to think of this as a strength—not a weakness. As a society, we’ve pushed past the pejorative connotations with pungent smells. You eat with all your senses, so turning your nose away from those fermented aromas will only limit your experience. Adding a touch of fish sauce to your dessert is so much more than a gimmick. It gives the dish a layered complexity of flavor without any complicated technique. Next time you reach for a bottle of patis, don’t hesitate to add a splash to your dessert.
News Source: https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/why-you-should-add-fish-sauce-to-cookies/amp