Magna Kusina

Chef Carlo Lamagna on 
How To Use Fish Sauce

Carlo Lamagna brought Filipino cooking to Portland. He might not have been the first to serve pancit and lumpia, but adding a few of his Filipino favorites to the menu when he was the chef at Clyde Common made diners look beyond the city’s more popular Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

Now at his own restaurant, Magna Kusina, Carlo cooks with the flavors of his childhood, including fish sauce. “Fish sauce, next to soy sauce, is a very important ingredient,” he says, adding that it provides both seasoning and umami. “Depending on the dish, fish sauce is used in varying degrees,“ explains Carlo. “Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it’s the main flavor.”

“Depending on the dish, fish sauce is used in varying degrees. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it’s the main flavor.”

Filipino food combines the island nation’s seafood tradition with elements from Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish, and American cooking. Sour, salty, and sweet get mixed together to create the audaciously bold flavors of Filipino classics like adobo, typically pork or chicken cooked in vinegar, or the fish sauce flavored vegetable stews like pinakbet and dinengdeng.

Carlo notes that “fish sauce can be intimidating” for first-time users, but he has some tips. “The pungent aroma and funky flavor in its pure form can throw even a seasoned cook off their game, so remember that a little can go a long way. Start with a salad dressing and work your way up, and try instead of salt.”

Photo credit goes to @magnapdx, @twistedfilipino and @carterhiyama

Carlo Lamagna’s Arroz Caldo

This Filipino take on chicken and rice from award-winning chef Carlo Lamagna demonstrates the umami-generating power of fish sauce.

Prep 15 minutes
Cook 45 minutes
Serves 4 -6


2 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
2 chicken drumsticks (bone in, skin on)
1 cup (appx) chopped chicken liver, heart, gizzard (optional)
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups Koda Kokuho Rose white rice*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, finely chopped
¼ cup Red Boat fish sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste

To serve
Green onions, sliced
Fried garlic**
Lemon wedges

*brown rice works but will take about 20 minutes longer to cook

**fry chopped or sliced garlic in olive oil until golden, or purchase fried garlic at Asian grocery stores such as H Mart


1. In a large covered pot or Dutch oven, brown the thighs and drumsticks in the olive oil over medium heat. When browned on all sides, remove from the pot and set aside.

2. In the same pot, cook the onions, ginger, and garlic until translucent. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the rice and stir, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the rice is done, about 15 minutes.

4. Add the thighs and drumsticks (and liver, etc, if using), and add more stock or water if needed. Some prefer a more porridge-like consistency, others like this more soupy. Cook until the chicken is very tender, 15-20 minutes, then add the fish sauce.

5. Serve the arroz caldo in bowls, garnish with sliced green onions, fried garlic, and lemon wedges.