Anchovies typically play one of two roles, and in one of them, you can substitute an alternative.
In dishes like Caesar salad or pasta puttanesca, anchovies provide one of the key flavors and are used generously. But in other cases, from stews to meatballs, we often add just a small amount of these little salt-cured fish to provide a meaty, umami boost that isn’t identifiably fishy. We wondered if fish sauce, which is made from fermented anchovies, could be substituted in a pinch.
In Caesar dressing, where the flavor of the anchovies plays a dominant role, the fish sauce didn’t work. It came across as too fishy and slightly metallic, and it made the consistency too loose and runny. However, it was an acceptable substitute for the anchovies in our Italian-Style Turkey Meatballs, where they give both the tomato sauce and the turkey added meatiness.
So in recipes where anchovies are used to add background flavor, feel free to substitute 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce per anchovy fillet.