Anchovy pasta with nam pla

Overcome by the unexpected dinner-time arrival of the hungry multitudes demanding something warm to fill their bellies? Here’s what you do to provide a splendid combination of fish flavours and pasta, without the need to bait a hook and visit the dam.

To make anchovy pasta with fish sauce for four, you will need:

  • 500g spaghetti
  • 2 eggs
  • 15ml Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
  • Red Tobasco to taste
  • 10 anchovy fillets
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup fresh parsley
  • Extra virgin olive oil, salt and coarsely ground black pepper on demand

Let us begin with the logistics. See this as a basic list that can be doubled or tripled as needed. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce, also known as nam pla, is an imported condiment of great complexity increasingly easy to obtain in supermarkets in larger towns.

Made from fermented anchovies, it has a very strong flavour, so stick to suggested, carefully dispensed quantities. The well-known truth of seasoning is that you can always add, but never subtract.

Bread crumbs can be bought in supermarkets. More pleasingly, however, you can make your own. Drop a few slices of day-old bread into a food processor, rev it to the red line and – WHAMMO! – you’ve got bread crumbs.

Anchovy fillets come in slender bottles filled with edible oil and are usually headless. Coarsely chop the fillets you want to use. Crush, peel and mince the garlic. Action stations. Pour 80ml of extra virgin olive oil into a heavy-based frying pan and bring this up to medium heat.

Gently cook the garlic and anchovy fillets for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat. Reserve it under cover, still in the pan. At the same time, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta, drain well and retain a cup of used pasta water.

Final stage! Separate the eggs and pour the yolks into a mixing bowl. Add the carefully measured fish sauce, 5ml Red Tobasco and 30ml pasta water. Stir to combine, then spill in the cooked pasta, mixing it well with the eggy contents.
Add some pasta water if the mix looks too dry, but be conservative. Pour in the bread crumbs, add the chopped parsley and stir like crazy to evenly distribute the various textures and ingredients.

Season to taste with generous quantities of freshly ground black pepper and salt, adding a little at a time and tasting before adding any more. If the chilli accent is a little muted, add extra Red Tobasco. Alternatively, leave this final addition to each individual diner. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little additional olive oil as a final garnish.

Quick, tasty and easily expandable to feed the hordes!

David Basckin is a freelance journalist and videographer.