Caramelized Scallion and Fish Sauce Pasta

 Buttered noodles are a childhood classic. What’s not to love? A hot bowl of pasta covered in melted butter, and perhaps a sprinkle of parmesan cheese if it was an adventurous day. Growing up, my mom would make a variation on the classic buttered noodle by deeply caramelizing a ton of onions in the butter before stirring into the cooked pasta and drowning it in parmesan from a green can. It was delicious, and I would eat it until I was sick. This recipe is sort of an homage to that, with a little more nuance and technique thrown in. Caramelized onions are magic – there’s no arguing with that. Sweet and full of umami, they are a welcome addition to a vast number of foods. However, when buttered noodles are on the menu, spending 40 minutes to properly caramelize onions is not. Scallions are magical in their own right. While not as sweet as a regular onion, scallions have a more complex aroma, are deeply vegetal and savory, and provide more texture when cooked than a normal onion would. In less than 20 minutes you can have a pan full of charred and caramelized scallions sitting in the most aromatic oil you could ask for.

The splashes of fish sauce and sake are what makes this dish special. Neither ingredient is present enough to detect on its own, but when cooked off in the scallion butter, adds depth and complexity to what is otherwise an incredibly simple dish. Without going too deep into the science of umami, fish sauce has a synergistic effect when combined with ingredients like scallions and garlic that increase the savoriness of the dish tenfold. The sake or wine also provides a little sweetness and much-needed acidity to this rich plate of pasta. Buttered noodles don’t tend to have a “sauce” other than the simply melted butter. By stirring in the starchy pasta water and a very generous amount of Parmigiano, the scallion-infused butter becomes emulsified into a thick and creamy sauce that actually coats the noodles, rather than dripping off of them.

While I’m more than happy to eat this pasta on its own, the flavor profile is fairly simple. This would shine next to a roasted chicken breast, seared salmon, or even some shrimp fresh off the grill. It would also pair great with roasted vegetables of all kinds. After all, it really is just fancy buttered and oniony noodles. On its own, though, the end dish is pleasantly savory, rich, and comforting, while still tasting like it was made at a high-end restaurant. The best part? It hardly requires more work than your average plate of buttered noodles.

Caramelized Scallion and Fish Sauce Pasta


  • ~3 bunches of scallions
  • 3 tbsp (~45g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (~54g) olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/2 lb (~220g) dry spaghetti
  • 1/2 tbsp (~8ml) fish sauce
  • Splash of sake or dry white wine
  • 1 oz (~30g) parmigiano reggiano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil.
  2. Clean and trim all scallions. Separate the white parts of the scallions and lightly smash them with the flat side of a knife. Slice the entire scallion into ~1 inch segments and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium-low heat until melted and slightly bubbling. Add sliced scallions, the whole garlic clove, and a pinch of salt to the pan, stirring to coat in oil. Caramelize scallions over low heat until deeply golden brown, ~15-20 minutes.
  4. Drop spaghetti into boiling water and cook until al dente, or about a minute less than package instructions. Reserve all pasta water.
  5. Once scallions are caramelized, add fish sauce to the pan and allow to cook off in the oil, about 2 minutes.
  6. Deglaze pan with a splash of sake or white wine and stir until the alcohol has burned off. Add pasta and a hefty splash of pasta water to the pan and stir vigorously.
  7. Once pasta is incorporated with the scallions, turn off the heat. Sprinkle in grated parm and splashes of pasta water incrementally while stirring, until a thick and emulsified sauce is made. Add a gratuitous amount of black pepper and taste for seasoning. Serve with extra parm and enjoy!
Recipe Details
By Brandon Muhawi

Senior Food Writer at Pro Home Cooks