A scheme for detecting the phase of an incoming optical signal is systematically optimized and demonstrated experimentally. It makes use of four-wave mixing in a highly nonlinear fiber but differs from a phase-sensitive amplifier by its focus on phase detection, rather than on phase-dependent noise reduction. This experimental setup combines the signal with its phase-conjugated idler at the same frequency, before sending the combination to a photodetector. Experimental results show that the ratio of maximum and minimum currents can exceed 1000 even at a relatively low pump power of 10 mW. The proposed scheme may be useful for detecting the signal phase in coherent communication systems without the need of heterodyne detection. © 2020 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).