The Ultimate Umami Burger/Cheeseburger

Ultimate Umami Burger that everyone loves. Secret ingredient is in the fish sauce @whiteonrice

Our ugly, but incredibly savory, delicious and popular ultimate umami burger now has an update when it made it again this week. This time, it became the ultimate umami cheeseburger, which is updated in the recipe. 

For the longest time, we’ve been making the best darn hamburger recipe on the face of this earth (insert personal bias.) We’ve never had a specific name for our homemade burger recipe until someone tagged it as the “magic meat”, but not as in “mystery meat” or “I can’t tell if this is chicken or beef.” Rather, it was to describe the magical flavor sensations that everyone experienced when they bit into one of our patties. That “magic meat” term  described the juicy, flavorful and savory burger patty that everyone fought over. Sometimes the buns were tossed to the side or forgotten because the meat was just so delicious and satisfying. .

It wasn’t until recently, with all the discussion on Umami (the rich, savory taste in foods) that our burger recipe was re-named as  the hamburger loaded with Umami. Our hungry friends were always stumped to figure out the secret ingredient and could never, ever pinpoint that “magic” flavor that made our patties so unique.

It’s the ultimate burger that is so satisfying and savory,  no one can eat just one. Make it a double, please.

But this umami rich burger recipe isn’t a new invention, nor is it a trendy recipe to keep up with the popularity of umami rich foods. It’s a family recipe that started from a Vietnamese family back in the early 80’s, in a 2-bedroom apartment, in the middle of Southern California.

Ultimate umami burger recipe that's so flavorful. The secret ingredient is in the fish sauce marinade @whiteonriceour ultimate umami burgers are the highlights of our outdoor gatherings 
Ultimate umami burger recipe that's so flavorful. The secret ingredient is in the fish sauce marinade @whiteonrice

Diane –

That Vietnamese family is obviously mine. Growing up in a Vietnamese family of 6 kids who were always hungry and thirsty for more American foods, my parent had to figure out a way to feed their hungry pack of kids. Back then, hamburgers were the “American’s food”, “that sandwich with that big piece of meat in it, with the  red and yellow sauces and the sour cucumber slices.” My siblings and I wanted to eat “Ham-buh-guh” all day long and we wanted it NOW.

My parents figured out that it was much more economical to make burgers at home and did exactly that by created their own recipe for the patties. Of course, being Vietnamese, they marinated the beef in the only way they knew how—splash fish sauce to it. Fish sauce is the golden elixir to us Vietnamese, take it away and you drain the blood out of our cuisine. Fish sauce is the fermented salvation from the food gods above, and it’s pure umami brings out the savory depth in all foods.

With their batch of beef, my parents’ splashed fish sauce as the one and only marinade into the burger recipe. With the addition of a little sugar for balance, garlic for more aromatic love and black pepper for bite, their simple recipe has evolved into what our friends call today as “The Ultimate Umami Burger.”

This recipe isn’t unique by any means, especially in a Vietnamese household. I’m certain there are many Vietnamese-American families who splashed their burger meat with fish sauce!

Todd –

I know what a lot of you non-Asian people are thinking, “Fish sauce?  Um, hell no.”  But wait, my dear skeptics, and listen to my confessional. For many years when I first joined up with this beautiful, crazy Asian, I avoided fish sauce.  Let’s face it, it stinks like something most of us are not used to.  It is, after all, fermented anchovies.  Mmmm, tasty! Not. At least so I thought, but man, was I ever wrong.

One fine meal while dining on a grilled shrimp ball, I dipped it into the Vietnamese classic Nuoc Cham (Viet Fish Sauce Dip) and I suddenly saw the umami.  There was no nasty weird fishiness, instead the fish sauce’s own flavor virtually disappeared and many of the other flavors within the grilled shrimp ball became heightened.  Everything was good before, but after the addition of the the fish sauce everything was incredible.  I was instantly converted.

Ever since I’ve never hesitated in grabbing for the bottle of fish sauce.  It was my brother-in-law, a classic mid-west guy, who dubbed the fish sauce laden ground beef as the “Magic Meat.”  It was that damn tasty. And now we have another believer in the umami.

Sure everything will be tasty without the umami adding fish sauce.  However, it will be even better with the magic sauce.

Ultimate umami burger recipe that's so flavorful. The secret ingredient is in the fish sauce marinade @whiteonrice 

The Ultimate Umami Burger Recipe

Yield: 4-6 Burgers

Total Time: 30 minutes

Don't be afraid of the fish sauce. Understand the crucial umami factor that fish sauce brings to food and it will become your best pantry friend. So often, the powerful, pungent punch of fish sauce can be intimidating to cooks who aren't familiar with it's marinading magic.
Fish sauce is essentially the salty liquid from the fermentation of small fish and salt. But when used in small quantities, fish sauce brings fabulous umami savoriness to the burgers. It won't taste like a "fish sauce burger." It just tastes like a darn great burger! You'll be a fish sauce marinade convert very quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Ground Beef
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce (for more daring, savory depth, use 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed or fine mince
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Black Pepper
  • 4-6 Hamburger buns
  • condiments of your choice and cheese makes it extra decadent and special

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine fish sauce, garlic, sugar and black pepper. Add the marinade to the ground beef and combine until all the ingredients are mixed together well. Refrigerate the beef for at least 30 minutes. We like to allow the beef to marinade overnight in the fridge for optimum flavor.
  2. Gently form meat into patties. Form them to the size of your burger or slider buns.
  3. Cook on a skillet or grill. (1/2 patties on a med./high grill take about 3 min. per side for med. rare burger.  Heat temp., thickness, etc. all affect cooking times) Assemble your burger with your favorite condiments and treat yourself to the cheeseburger version!
Recipe Source: WhiteOnRiceCouple.com.

Hello! All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use our images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply link back to this post for the recipe. Thank you.
Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.


{ 139 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Fred Thompson

    I just cooked these for everyone (7 people) in our small office today at lunch. Everyone thought they were awesome, and I have to say this was the best burger I’ve ever had. Highly recommended!

  2. Chris

    Love this! Everything old is new again! The secret to Worcestershire sauce has always been fish sauce, thanks to a long-ago oriental traveler. :) Making your own version is an incredibly great idea.

  3. jack burton

    We use fish sauce in just about everything that gets cooked in the house. Soups, stews, chilies and the like get a healthy does of it while cooking.

  4. Terenc Blakely

    Sounds like an excellent recipe that I’ll try soon. I do have a question that is tenuously related to this article. How is ‘umami’ different from ‘savory’?

    1. Todd & Diane

      It is hard to easily answer. In short, umami is a savory taste element, but not all savory can be described as umami.

  5. Barbara

    I put fish sauce into nearly everything I cook except oatmeal. (But, hey. . . that’s a thought!) There are few things it doesn’t make better.

  6. hpoulter

    Looks great! Fish sauce is not as “exotic” as people think. Modern italian cooking uses colatura, the modern version of ancient Rome’s garum sauce. For Anglos, the most common source of fish sauce is real Worcestershire sauce (read the label). Just don’t sniff the fish sauce bottle.

  7. zorroprimo

    MMEEEEEEEEAAAAATTTTT!!!!!!!

  8. Cynthia

    Where can I purchased fish sauce

    1. Todd & Diane

      Hi Cynthia,
      Some “regular” grocery stores now have fish sauce in their international isles, although usually it isn’t our preferred brands. Most Asian grocery stores have it. And you can always get fish sauce on Amazon. Enjoy!

  9. Mary Frances

    That burger looks SO delicious! A weekend BBQ star for sure!

  10. Emily

    These are DEFINITELY going on the grill ASAP! Holy yum!

  11. Celia

    Made these tonight on the grill. Agreed by my husband and I they are the best burgers ever ( we did them with Asiago cheese on top). Cảm ơn bạn với mẹ đáng kính của bạn cho bữa ăn tuyệt vời!

  12. quoe2

    Just in time for Memorial Day – thank you, kids! <3

  13. Ez

    Best DARN burger recipe! I added galangal powder and apple sauce (ala NomNomPaleo) instead of sugar. Divine with a pile of sauteed mushrooms and onions on top.

  14. Flynn

    This is the only thing I’ve ever done with hamburgers that has people asking if I’m “going to make another round.” Note to those using it for the first time – make extra patties.

  15. Alex

    Found this recipe at random yesterday morning and tried it for my 4th of July cookout. These were pretty much the best burgers I’ve ever had, and they were a huge hit at the party. Thank you!

  16. Nima

    Hi Diane,

    What happens if I let the meat marinate more than 20 minutes? Maybe over night even!

    Thanks.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Nima,
      An overnight marinade may just leave you with an even more delicious burger. The 20 minutes is just a quick recommendation since most tend not to plan that far ahead, but you can certainly marinate it longer. Enjoy!

  17. David

    I am in process of opening a burger place quite differentiated from your average fast foods or
    the high-end costly burger places.

    A healthy tasty burger at a reasonable price!

    Having said that, I plan to buy the pre-formed 4 oz patties about 3′ inches round.
    So they will be thicker.

    I however will not be able to marinate these patties as you have suggested.

    Is there a way to use your recipe with pre-made patties? i.e. brushing them on each side while they are grilling, injecting the liquid inside them while they re grilling, or……?

    Would really appreciate your feedback.

    David

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi David, the recipe we have is for fresh beef, but I’m sure there’s a way to still apply the same flavor to pre-formed patties. If I were to do this, I’d probably let the patties thaw out (if they were pre-frozen). Then brush a very light layer of fish sauce on it and allow it to marinade for about 20 minutes. Then right before grilling or cooking the patties, I would brush the patties with light layer of oil so that the fish sauce doesn’t burn too quickly. If you try this, let me know how it works!
      thank you,
      -diane

      1. David

        Thank you Diane,
        Just to be clear, when you say brush a very light layer of fish sauce” do you mean just fish sauce or the recipe you have have here which has other ingredients as well?

        And I am assuming by light layer of foil you mean perhaps a brush stoke of oil on each side! Yes?
        Many thanks,
        David

        1. Joe

          David, I think this could work. You can combine the fish sauce, sugar, the fresh garlic, and whole peppercorns into a blender and blend them as a sauce to brush onto your burger patties.

  18. Joyce

    I have a quick question. I looked up online the umami burger recipe. They also showed http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/umami-burgers-with-port-and-stilton with different combinations of ingredients. So which one is really Umami Burger Recipe?

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Joyce- there’s really no official “umami burger recipe”. We use that word to describe the umami-depth of flavor in our burger because of the added fish sauce. Other recipes will add Worcestershire, soy sauce or mustard to get that umami flavor too. So not sure what you mean by “really umami burger recipe”. There is a chain of burger restaurants called “Umami Burger” here in Southern California. If you’re looking for their official recipe, then we’re not sure if they publish their own recipe or not.

      1. Joyce

        Hello, Thanks for your reply. I heard from my friends about Umami Burger. At first I thought that it is a name of a type of burger. I think mistakenly, umami just means depth of flavors and it is not a name of type of burger. Am I right?

        1. Karen

          There is a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles called Umami Burger

        2. White on Rice Couple

          Hi Joyce- Yes, well at least that’s how we understand it to be.
          Umami is the term used to describe the “savory, deep taste” in food. Google search shows some great links on how people describe Umami.
          And not sure if anyone has ever made claim to being an official “umami burger recipe”. We know of many people to have their version of a very umami-burger, meaning a really flavorful, savory burger patty. It’s really fascinating to see how people intensify the umami flavor with different ingredients. Have fun!!

          1. jan derr

            you guys are too inspirational. as a vege eater i study umami because i love savory, but now and again i will indulge a burger. i think deglazing with a diluted fish sauce and some fermented soy might also have merit. Your article is a wonderful read.

  19. Kim

    I just read this post and this sounds awesome. I love fish sauce and try to find interesting ways to incorporate it into my meals! Thanks for the inspiration.

  20. sonja

    what if ur allergic to fish. what else can be used.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Soy sauce would probably be the next best alternative. I would start with a little less, maybe 1 tablespoon per 2 lbs of beef. It will give you that hit of savory as well as salting the meat. See if you like the taste, then try adding more soy in the next batch to find your personal preference.

  21. Allison

    Just made turkey burgers with your recipe. Best ever! I LOVE fish sauce (I could practically drink it), and use it in Asian dishes, on roasted veggies, in Caesar salad dressing, and more. I use a Thai brand called Golden Boy. For the folks that commented on using fish sauce in Italian dishes (spaghetti with meat sauce), I would suggest using anchovies to deepen the umami flavor. Canned ones are fine, just smash a couple of them on a cutting board with a chef’s knife and mince them up fine. Add them when you’re sauteing the onions and garlic and be amazed at the depth of flavor…delicious! Thanks for the recipe!!!!

    1. Dell

      And don’t forget this ONE simple ingredient when making Red Sauce with meat. Use a Cast Iron Skillet, it also adds to the depth of flavor in Spagetti Sauces. I kid you not.

  22. Margo

    I love fish sauce, but the Vietmanese store I go to has at least 20 brands. How do I know what is good? The bottles are big. Do you have a recommendation? (I guess I could ask them, too!)

    1. Joe

      try to get the one made only of anchovies, salt, and water. The lesser ingredients added, the better.

  23. Cheese with Noodles

    Diane and Todd, just wanted to let you know that we love these burgers!! They are definitely the best burgers we’ve ever had. I’ve probably made them 5 times in the past year. May not sound impressive, but I tend to make even our favorite recipes only once every few years because I love trying out new ones. I posted my slightly tweaked version of your recipe on my blog, hope you don’t mind. Here is the link if you would like to see: http://cheesewithnoodles.blogspot.com/2012/05/best-hamburgers-ever-aka-umami.html

  24. Kelly

    Burgers were great, but I have to agree with Greg, grilling the burgers creates the most insane volatile fumes and the smoke is encompassing. We grill on our balcony and it was a bit intense for my boyfriend manning the grill. I recommend this recipe for those that have a back yard and can grill in the open air.

  25. Greg

    Excellent combination. Substituted the ground black pepper with smoked pepper for some additional subtle flavor notes. Heating of fish sauce causes some of the more volatile amines (the source of the “fishiness” to vent. The glutamines that remain are what causes the “savory” flavor. Had a bunch of the batch of ground beef from the original recipe and added some fresh ginger and soy sauce to make “Asian” meatballs.

  26. Sophie

    Made these for my family — got major rave reviews from everyone. Thankfully, my family are adventurous eaters and were intrigued by the fish sauce addition when I told them about it…. It frustrates me when readers will say such things as “you had me, until fish sauce” — have they even tried it? Anyway. This is an insanely smart idea and I will never make burgers without fish sauce! I did half pork, half beef chuck and it was the best burger to ever come from my grill. Thanks!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      That’s awesome. Love that you’ve raised adventurous eaters too!

      We tend to friend those who say “You had me at fish sauce” rather than “until” but for some it is just a bit scary. The best is when they give it a try anyway and end up loving it. Thanks again for sharing.

      T & D

  27. Kelly

    Hi, I was going to make these for a bbq this weekend and was wondering if you can marinade for a few hours for a better taste or is 20 minutes all you need? I’m so excited to try them!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Kelly,
      If you have the time to marinate longer (sometimes we’ll even make the patties the night before) it does give it a slightly deeper flavor and juiciness, but we often will quickly throw it together just before lighting up the charcoal and it is still really good. The flavor difference isn’t huge, so for us we’ll do whichever is best for our logistical workflow. Have a great bbq! We’d love to hear of everyone’s reactions.
      t & d

  28. flynn

    We made these for dinner and they were choice! Definitely upped the flavor, and even when I added the ingredients to the uncooked meat, they immediately smelled not fishy, but just plain meatier. My better half was impressed. Thanks for the tip!

  29. Lolly Toucanella

    i found your site by googling umami burger, and tried your recipe last night. grilled the burgers and served them on pretzel rolls, they were by far the best burgers i have ever made. thanks so much for the wonderful recipe. i’m a big fan of roasted brussel sprouts so i’ll have to give that one a try too!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      That’s awesome. So glad you loved the burgers with the fish sauce! And on pretzel rolls… Sounds fantastic!

      T & D

  30. Howard

    Todd,
    That is quite an eye opener for me. I know Europeans use a lot more fish products than Euro-American cuisine, but I have not personally been to Europe to have a first hand sampling of the real thing. The only Italian food I’ve been exposed to is in the US and I guess it is probably like Americanized Chinese cuisine. I tried “fish sauce” in spaghetti meat sauce once and boy it sure tasted weird. Wife and kids unanimously gave it thumbs down. I went back to plain ole salt after that….just to preserve the oregano, Parmesan flavor. I did a modified sliced beef, tomato, bell pepper with Oregano, Basil and a dash of fish sauce and that was good over linguine. No Parmesan in it though, so, I cannot really claim it Italian….:)

    By the way, I really enjoy your website photography articles. Do you plan on an article about remotely controlled external Speedlites in near future? That would be cool.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Thanks Howard! We haven’t filmed any more tutorials on the Speedlites for a while, but it is on our list of things we want to do when we have time. I’ll bump it up higher on the list for you! They are fun to shoot with!

      Todd

  31. John O

    Have you every tried using fish sauce in baking? I’m curious to know how it would work in pizza dough? Love your magical burger. John

    1. Howard

      John,
      Fish sauce is wonderful in many dishes but it just does not go well with Italian cuisine. The reason being Italian is not Italian unless it has the strong flavor of Oregano, basil, Parmesan cheese..etc… Fish sauce kills these flavor and it is no longer Italian.

      Instead of pizza, how about trying out “banh xeo” recipe? thirty years ago we used to call it Viet pizza. You will use plenty of fish sauce in this dish.

      1. White on Rice Couple

        Interesting take on fish sauce not going well with Italian. Especially considering Roman cuisine is one of the few “Western cuisines” which actually has fish sauce in it’s heritage. Even still today in the Southern cuisine. In our observations, although fish sauce has a very pungent aroma, when cooked with in the appropriate amounts, it tends to disappear into a dish allowing the other ingredients to come to life a bit more. Sometimes I think people who love it tend to be a bit heavy handed for those who aren’t big fans. And everyone’s taste preferences are different and cuisines do change over time.
        You are on the money with banh xeo! One of the best Vietnamese dishes there are and is a delicious with fish sauce to dip in.

        Todd

  32. l petersek

    this sounds great! can you use fish sauce in any beef dish? – like chili or beef stew?

    1. White on Rice Couple

      We usually do use fish sauce in stews and chilies. Just reduce the amount of salt to compensate for the saltiness of the fish sauce.

  33. Kerry

    Sounds great, and I plan to try it. Just one question. Once it is opened, does fish sauce have to be refrigerated?

    Thanks,

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Kerry. Enjoy the fish sauce! You don’t need to bother fridging the fish sauce after opening. It keeps great at room temp.

  34. Rebekah

    Yum.

    That is all.

    :)

  35. A

    I made these tonight for dinner. This recipe inspired me to make hamburgers for the first time. I’m not a big meat or hamburger fan but the recipe looked too good not to try. We really liked them and my husband said they’re better than the ones at his favorite burger restaurant. Very good. Thanks for the great idea! I really like fish sauce, it’s what makes fried rice taste right and apparently burgers too. I’m off to look at your Sriracha roasted brussels sprouts recipe…

  36. Audrey D

    I made these tonight (pioneer woman posted on her blog) and they were OUTSTANDING and a great hit! Thank you so much
    I have never cooked with Fish Sauce but now I am thinking of adding it to EVERYTHING! A little goes a long way!
    Thanks again for educated us! :)

  37. Audrey D

    Pioneer Woman posted this burger today! Awesome – cant wait to try it

  38. Sandie (Sandie's Bitchin' Kitchen)

    Hi, Todd and Dianne!
    I was over on your danish recipe when I saw the link for this recipe… I am in love! What could be better than a nice, juicy hamburger?! Well, besides sushi, bacon, Nutella, and raspberries!!
    While I entirely love the idea of these cheeseburgers, I’ve decided that they need a little bit better treatment than processed ketchup from a bottle… So, I’m going to roast some tomatoes in the oven, perhaps with a little bit of fish sauce as well, and then use these as for the ketchup aspect!
    Thank you for the great burger recipe!!

    Sandie

  39. Elizabeth

    I tried this on Valentines Day in fact–did EXACTLY what you said it would–you couldn’t detect the sauce but it just boosted the beefiness of the burger so it was savory and delicious; we used a little gruyere but that’s all the burgers needed. I’d love to know how else you use fish sauce in more traditionally “American” foods; aside from some sodium it’s a terrific, no calorie way to really wake up the flavor of food. Any ideas would be welcome! Thanks!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      So glad you loved it. Your burgers sound fantastic with the gruyere. We’ll often use some fish sauce when cooking up veggies, like our sriracha roasted brussels sprouts. This recipe isn’t really traditional American, but you can kind of see how we would use it when roasting vegetables. If we were roasting asparagus, we’d just use a little fish sauce, grapeseed oil, fresh thyme, and cracked pepper. Or along the meat route, our Buffalo wings recipes often get a hit of fish sauce. Often it is replacing the salt when it can be done with a liquid that won’t affect the final texture of the dish. Have fun experimenting! Fish sauce truly is a magic sauce.

  40. ellenfoto

    is there a big difference in taste between Thai fish sauce and Vietnamese fish sauce? i use the Thai in alot of preparations, but haven’t tried vietnamese yet. looking fwd to trying these umami burgers! also, i’m a photographer and i love your site.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Thanks for the compliment. We find there is a difference between almost every brand of fish sauce, wether Thai or Vietnamese. Saltiness, cleanliness in taste, “fishy-ness” . We definitely have our favorites, but in So Cal we are lucky to have dozens of brands easily available to us. You may have to adjust quantities based on the brand you have. In general when shopping with only unknown brands available to us, we’ll look for ones that are more golden and clear rather than murky.

  41. Elizabeth Goodman Artis

    What other “classically” American dishes do you/would you add fish sauce too? I love it but, of course, fear it to some extent because it’s so damn pungent–but I can see how it could wake of the flavor of loads of things ( I tend to use in a vinaigrette or dipping sauces).

  42. Diana

    O.M.G. You guys are amazing! That burger kicked some serious ass! I made some freshly baked brioche buns along with the patties and I’m in heaven right now. Thank you so much for sharing! :) Please do post the recipe for fish sauce…I’m dying to try it. Again, thanks for being so awesome.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Diana,
      Your comment made our day. Once you go fish sauce, you never go back!
      We’ll definitely post a recipe for making your own fish sauce once we have it nailed down.
      T & D

  43. Colleen

    These look awesome. Has anyone tried these burgers with Hawaiian rolls? I want to make sliders but I need to make a good bun decision.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Colleen,
      Hawaiian rolls are our favorite way to make these into sliders. People freak out over how tasty they are.

  44. Georgina

    Finally! A use for fish sauce!

  45. David

    I just happened across this via google search and made them yesterday for a company BBQ – huge hit and many “best hamburger I’ve ever had comments”. I made them as sliders on the Costco slightly sweet dinner rolls topped with half a slice of Colby Jack.

    Thanks!

  46. Stevie

    Aha! Its amazing how skeptical our western minds are when faced with something like this, only to be completely overridden by the flavour overload that the fish sauce adds.

    I’ve yet to make these burgers but I know the fish sauce will be the killer ingrediant – I’ve started adding it to gound beef when browning for chilli, bolognese etc etc.

    A similar idea and one which might appeal: When making steaks, coat them in a paste mixture of ground anchovies, garlic, thyme, rosemary and olive oil and fry to your liking. Just like the burgers, the depth from the ground anchovies is fantastic, but with no “fishy” taste.

    Superb, I will make your burgers tonight!

    Stevie,
    Scotland

  47. Tweev-tip

    I make these exclusively all the time now. I’ve modified it little – I’ve 1/2 the fish sauce and replace it with soy sauce and also add garlic and onion powder. Lastly, some steak spice on the outside and they are perfect. Really, really good. Thank you.

  48. Pete W

    Reminds me of what I do with burgers. Only I use oyster sauce in them and just black pepper. Provides a similar umami experience.

  49. Ellen

    I am very much looking forward to your home made fish sauce recipe. I live near a good source of small fresh fish that are easy to catch.

  50. HoneyB

    I am absolutely going to make your recipe today. I will be using venison so I am hoping that it will “help” me like the burger more. I cook with a lot of venison because that is what we always have in our freezer (yeah Grumpy the hunter) but I personally am not crazy about the taste and like to try to find ways to kill the “wildness” that I don’t like about it. Grumpy’s daddy is here today to so I am anxious to see what they will think of these burgers! Of course, I’m not going to tell them and I am hoping they call this Magic Meat too! :o)

  51. Hsin

    Just discovered this fantastic blog! It makes up for my Gourmet subscription that the publisher cancelled.
    I love fish sauce but didn’t think of putting it in burgers.
    But I have been using anchovy paste as a stealth ingredient in all sorts of other dishes, so now I know I’m on the right track.

  52. Karen

    Yes, I’ve been using fish sauce instead of salt for years. It adds a certain depth to my dishes that plain cooking salt can’t equal.

  53. Seana

    I read this awhile ago and thought “hmm…interesting”. I was making burgers a couple of weeks ago and remembered the fish sauce after I’d already made the patties, and went back and forth re: should I toss all the meat back after making these perfectly sized and shaped patties, and add the fish sauce or not? I am SO glad I opted to do so! I wasn’t sure how much to put in so I just winged it. Didn’t share with dh what I’d done but while he was eating his burger, he said “wow, this meat is REALLY good, isn’t it?”! I eventually told him what I’d added and now this is the way I’ll prepare burgers all the time. Definitely fantastic and makes all the difference in the world! Thank you!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Seanna- wonderful! Glad you had a last minute (literally) change of plans and tossed the meat back! Fish sauce definitely makes all the difference in the world.

  54. Dale

    I’m looking at a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worchestershire sayce, a very common burger sesasoning in the USA and the UK.
    The ingredients are: vinegar, sugar, salt, ANCHOVIES, tamarind, etc.
    I can’t WAIT to try fish sauce on my next burger!

  55. HerbyN

    this looks lovely. what a great post. i’m happy that i stumbled across your blog and look forward to monitoring it going forward. and i gotta say a bit about fish sauce… it has been my personal “secret ingredient” for some time. i have some dear friends that are filipinos and they introduced me to this wonderful condiment, and ever since i basically use it instead of worcestershire sauce. i think it has more depth and bite and richness of flavor. a big fan… i also now used many other traditionally asian condiments in my “western” recipes with great success. looking forward to reading more of you “fusion” cooking techniques…

  56. Scott

    I have done the same process with Turkey burgers and it was fantastic. I was looking for something to boost the turkey flavor and had decided a umami punch was the answer. I went back and forth between soy and fish sauce, but decided on Fish sauce due to the mild nature of the turkey. I haven’t tried the soy yet, but I will try it in the ground beef.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Scott – oooh, turkey burgers marinated in fish sauce, sounds like a winner!

  57. Dave

    Wow, I’ve actually been looking into making my own burgers for a while, this looks fantastic! I’ll have to try it out!

  58. Caroline

    My husband and I LOVE fish sauce! I laughed when I saw “magic meat” because we make a “magic sauce”. It’s made with equal parts fish sauce and chopped thai bird chilis. It marinates in the fridge and we add it to practically everything. When it runs low, we just add more of the ingredients. It ROCKS! We’ve added to salmon burgers, but have not thought to make hamburgers with it. We will now!

    BTW – I grew up in North Eastern Oregon (Baker) and now live in the Bay Area with my Japanese husband.

  59. foodwoolf

    Based on the number of enthusiastic responses, it looks like you have hit the umami burger jackpot.

    Following our refrigerator’s melt down I was forced to throw away everything in my refrigerator–including my 2 bottles of fish sauce. I’m quietly having a bit of an anxiety attack being without the sauce, especially now that I’ve read this article/recipe. MUST GO BUY FISH SAUCE TONIGHT!
    Thanks for the motivation to hurry up and replenish my larder! Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  60. Ashera

    Re: Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy

    Today after reading this post I tried putting fish sauce in my spaghetti meat sauce. It was delicious! My husband really loved it too, I only revealed afterwards that had fish sauce and he was amazed.

  61. Tuty

    I tried your recipe last night with a slight modification: 1 Tbsp. of “Three Crabs” brand fish sauce and 1 Tbsp. of Maggi seasoning sauce. Delicious!!!!

  62. joey

    Fish sauce? Hell yeah!!! We also use fish sauce a whole lot over here (Philippines — we call it patis) and it does add legions of umami to dishes :) I have never thought of adding it to my burger patties though…you can bet I am going to try that next! Thanks for passing this along!

  63. Lynn (The Actors Diet)

    mmmm….but what to do for my vegetarian hubby in his quest for an umami veggie burger?

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Lynn- just add soy sauce!! This will give nice umami depth too.

  64. Christine Ames

    Okay, you convinced me. I bought fish sauce for the first time, and made these for lunch yesterday. The best burgers I’ve ever made. Excellent cooking directions too; perfect medium rare burgers. Thank you Todd and Diane!

  65. sets

    Hello, this is the first tip I took from your wonderful website. I splashed my homemade Japanese fish sauce into my stuffed green pepper. Made some for lunch and dinner, couldn’t stop until they were gone!

  66. D-Nice

    Great recipe! Always knew something was missing from my burgers and I made these
    tonite…SuperFantasticdelicioso!
    Thanks for the tip

  67. Michelle

    You have such a beautiful website! I’m definitely going to try this burger, thanks so much for all the wonderful recipes.

  68. Jam Sanitchat

    THIS is my kind of burger. This is the very kind we make back home in Thailand. Fish sauce is magic. This is the ultimate burger. Thanks for spreading the love for fish sauce.

  69. chick

    I grew up with fish sauce in my hamburgers too! :) Fish sauce in everything. I found your website recently thru Vietkitchen. I’m so happy. I grew up only cooking a few dishes. I want to surprise my mom on a lot of dishes that I stupidly didn’t watch her make when I was a kid.

    Yahoo answers posted a question on making a perfect burger, I included your recipe and a link!

  70. Anna

    Just to report back that I made these tonight and my husband was like “oh man! what did you put in these?! they’re awesome!” and i thought that they were bloody delicious too! thanks!

  71. Fiona

    This looks like it will be the perfect partner to the kolsh ale that we just finished brewing that we infused with a little white nectarine. Can’t wait to try these burgers!

  72. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    For those who aren’t crazy about fish sauce, how about substituting mushroom soy sauce? It’s not the same flavor, but it’s loaded with umami.

    That would work too. Like you said, “Not the same flavor” but it would still be tasty. But we super encourage everyone to give the fish sauce a chance. – WORC

    1. Mr Delicious

      The whole point is that … “if you’re not crazy about fish sauce, you don’t know what you’re talking about. ” Nobody likes the smell of fish sauce but once used in a dish, it transforms to Umami…. meaning “tasty”. Nobody doesn’t like “tasty”.

  73. Haley J.

    Wow. Looks amazing! I might have to introduce a new burger to our cookouts. Speaking of which, I need to start exercising my powers of persuasion to get the husband to fire up the grill this weekend…

  74. Carrie Oliver

    I love fish sauce, can’t wait for you to post about how to make it. When you say crushed garlic, this to me means just smushed cloves, which doesn’t seem right. Should we use a garlic press? ps My challenge with burgers is I’m actually scared to eat the stuff from the store. Good reminder to buy a meat grinder.

    Crushed garlic means pounded the crap out of in a mortar & pestle. If you are lacking that, then you can either finely mince, then smash with the flat of the knife or else use a garlic press. -WORC

  75. Tim

    I tried this today for lunch and it worked a treat — great tip, and it totally makes sense. Mmm glutamate!

  76. Vuthy

    Wow, I love burgers and I love fish sauce so definitely must make this tomorrow. Couldn’t help but smile at the comments from those with dusty or idling bottles of fish sauce. I always buy the large bottles and it never lasts me longer than 2 months, if even. I put fish sauce on everything, including tart or unripe fruits. Mmmm!

    Thanks for sharing your “secret.” Also, how fatty is your ground beef? I don’t mind a 80% or 85% mix, but the mister doesn’t touch anything less than the 97% lean. I wonder if it would be just as good with such a lean mix.

    We are usually grind the cuts we want in a grinder at home, but it is rarely lean. If we are short on time we’ll usually buy the 85%. With the leaner stuff it might not be as juicy, but it will still benefit just as much from the fish sauce. For the best meat, especially lean meat, find a good grass fed beef source. Grass fed beef tend to be leaner, but incredibly well flavored and tender meat. There are other factors that figure into the quality of the beef, but that is a great place to start. -WORC

  77. Melissa

    The minute I saw “it’s a family recipe that started from a Vietnamese family” I thought FISH SAUCE. :) I have some right now and have been craving burgers something fierce as of late. Will try this, absolutely.

  78. Wasabi ratwurst

    I just got a bottle of fish sauce from a friend, he says this is by far the best he has come across. He has a little note about it on his flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayama/2549809015/

    I love me a simple classic hamburger. I think I am going to try this for sure.

  79. Jasmine

    Hi there,

    Do you have a fish sauce brand you recommend? (or just take a pic of your fish sauce bottle and put it up here so I can see what the label looks like?) :)

    There’s so many in 99 Ranch, I don’t know which to choose.

    Thanks,
    Jasmine

    There are a lot brands that are quite good, just with subtle nuance differences. Unless you are using it straight for a dip, it won’t matter too much which one you choose, so for marinades feel free to use what you’ve got because it will be hard to tell any difference. However, we do still have our favorites, with our number one fish sauce being the Flying Lion brand. It’s an orange label with a yellow sun, a large anchovy across the sun and the shape of Vietnam and a fishing boat silhouetted in the background. Another favorite is the Three Crab brand. -WORC

  80. Anna

    WOW! Who would have thought it? I love fish sauce- and that burger certainly looks umami to me! Thanks!

  81. SallyBR

    I am definitely making this very soon, but of course will say nothing about the “secret ingredient” to my beloved husband…

    I love fish sauce, always have it in the house, but it sits in a cabinet in the patio, the poor thing, all alone :-)

  82. Tartelette

    Fish sauce is way way up there in my most used ingredients! Love it on leftover rice for lunch. I totally can see why it would do a burger good! Never done it but doh! (slapping forehead)…heck yeah!
    My dad used to make us “steak tartare” where he would mix the meat with a sauce called “viandox” in France and we were crazy for it in anything. The flavor reminds me a lot of a toned down – westernized meat version of fish sauce. Salty but not as fermented as fish sauce. I’ll grab a couple of bottles next time, hop on a plane, get to your house, make some burgers with it while you make yours and we can have another party!!
    They look outstanding!

  83. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy

    What a great idea! I love fish sauce and splash it all over the place when I’m cooking. Well not everywhere. I do leave it out of my spaghetti sauce! 😉 I am definitely adding it to my next batch of burgers, though.

  84. Kristina

    I’ve been using fish sauce on my grilled chicken for years but I’ve never thought to put in a hamburger! Thanks!

  85. Ilana

    I love fish sauce and always keep a bottle in my pantry. I use it for Vietnamese simmered fish and for making a dipping sauce but I’ve never thought of adding it to regular old American food. I can’t wait to try the burger recipe. I can’t believe I never thought to try fish sauce for other things.

  86. Rebecca (Foodie With Family)

    You had me at ‘umami’. I’m making these. As soon as I get a good new bottle of fish sauce.

  87. Stephanie

    Hey there, I just posted a new peach recipe for Summer Fest! Peach Elderberry Jam:

    http://bit.ly/9twgo

    I’m actually thinking of all the savory uses for this jam, and I think it would go really well with meat. How about a tiny bit of jam over a ground pork burger?

  88. Eric Gower

    Diane, Todd — if can stand even more umami, pulverize some dried shiitake in a spice grinder, and liberally sprinkle over both sides of the burger. If you’re cooking it in a frying pan, it will form a magical crust. Keep the fish sauce, and you’ll have an umami explosion!

  89. Dodie @AshevilleTravel

    Oh boo. Why didn’t I read this yesterday?! I just prepped a ton of burgers for our weeklong camping adventure and would have totally experimented w/ ur magical mystery savory burgerness….though there’s gotta be a layer of dust on the bottle of fish sauce I bought for a recipe forever ago and was clueless as to how to use again. Now I know, use it for Umami!

    You can always splash a bit of fish sauce on top of the burgers after you cook them as well. Bring the bottle along when you go camping! Have a great time. -WORC

  90. grace

    you know what? at this point in my experiences with you two and your tremendous tastes, this white person will take you at your word that the fish sauce belongs. i won’t question it for even a second. :)

  91. Jesse

    Awesome! Did you see that the latest Saveur is all about the best hamburgers. They obviously missed one.

    I love marinating flank or skirt steak in fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, and cilantro but never thought of using the same combination in a hamburger. Now I must try it.

  92. Andrea Nguyen

    I should have guessed that nuoc mam was your stealth ingredient. Love it!

  93. Jen T.

    Wow, that sounds kind of amazing! My grocery store only sells fish sauce in these giant bottles, and I own one because you just can’t make good ginger chicken without it, but I’m always excited to find other uses for it- otherwise I’ll be using it for the next 10 years! Kudos to your parents!

  94. Jenni

    What a fantastic secret ingredient! Bet you (or your guests) need fewer condiments since the meat is so amazing. Guess I’m going to have to pick up some fish sauce now….

  95. Amy

    Fish sauce is an amazing ingredient! It’s perfect for crab cakes too.

  96. matt

    WOW, a fantastic sounding burger guys. Fish sauce in there is just genius – but then I expect nothing less from you too, you set such a high standard.

  97. FoodieInDisguise

    I always have a bottle of Fish Sauce (Patis as it’s called by the Filipinos) and never in my dreams thought about adding it to grond beef to form hamburgers.

    I am definitely going to try it this weekend!

  98. Jennifer Hess

    I added fish sauce to the burgers I made last weekend on a whim (instead of my usual Worcestershire), and they were by far the best burgers I have ever made! It’s amazing how much beefier that grass-fed beef tasted with a healthy splash of fish sauce in the mix. I’d urge any skeptics to listen to Diane and Todd, and give this a try!

  99. Casey (Good Food Stories)

    Wow – as a huge fish sauce fan, I can’t believe I never thought of this! I will have to hide the secret from my husband with the palate of a third-grader (he’s happy to put some lamb in his burger, but this might send him over the edge).

  100. David

    Don’t fear the fish sauce… I like that! (Wasn’t that a song by Blue Oyster Cult?) Fish sauce makes EVERYTHING better.

  101. Marion

    So fish sauce is the new black? Lovely, wonderful. Thanks so much. I’m serving this tonight.

  102. sarah

    I’m really looking forward to trying this. Plus, my husband and I just bought a place where we finally have outdoor access to have a grill (score!). What kind of beer did you pair with the burger?

  103. Kim

    I can vouch for this — my “crazy Asian” mom did the same thing! My husband had to grow to learn fish sauce as well, but he is a convert now. Fish sauce really is magical. Great post.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Kim – Yeah my Viet sista! we all love fish sauce!

  104. Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets)

    LOL your man calls you crazy Asian! that’s so funny; mine calls me crazy arab! I add seven spices and mushrooms to my burgers. Never tried fish sauce. Will try this recipe next time! Thanks for sharing :)

  105. Julia

    I made grilled (beef) meatballs last week using the Viet flavor combinations… and they were superb! I know that any one growing up with these flavors (Diane) inherently understand their virtues, but if you need any back-up, Todd, I’m here for you!

    P.S. It’s so interesting how the components translate across cultures — both have the sweet and sour cucumbers and the red condiment sauce.

  106. Jen (Modern Beet)

    oh yum! I can just imagine how a little bit of fish sauce could really intensify/deepen/transform the taste of a simple burger. I never would have thought of it myself though. I’ll definitely be trying this!

  107. Linda

    I just made bluecheese burgers with caramelized onions the other night. They were very tasty of course but I thought the patties were missing something that could turn it way up. Next time, I’m definitely trying this marinade! My boyfriend is a little dubious of fish sauce but as a proud Vietnamese-American, I feel it’s my duty to try to convert him somehow. Can’t wait to make these, watch him take a bite, fall in love, and then I can jump up and yell, “Ah-ha! I told you so!”. I love nuoc mam…

  108. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

    I am so trying this. Your burgers looks delicious. Kudos to your parents for thinking up this idea! I know if you have to cook them inside you’ll be using a nice hot cast iron skillet, lol.

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