Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Something useful for a change

You'll have to excuse the previous post. I had just returned from the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum, which featured some of the aforesaid tablets, and matters Roman were much on my mind.

All that aside, something equally Roman that will perhaps be a little more useful. A recipe for fish sauce. Now, it's not nuoc nam or nam pla, or even our own Worcestershire Sauce. I'm talking about the Emperor of all fish sauces - garum (also sometimes known as liquamen).

Garum was a very popular condiment in the Roman Empire. You know the way some kids slosh tomato sauce on just about everything? Well, the Romans did that with garum, not only on most of their savoury dishes, but also the sweet ones. You might like to try pears poached in wine and honey...with a dash of fish sauce. Mmm!

Anyway, the following recipe will probably give you a lifetime supply of the stuff.

Get yourself a big stone trough with a drain hole near the bottom and drag it out into your garden. An old enamel bath would probably work just as well. Now sprinkle a good layer of aromatic herbs in the bottom; coriander, fennel and oregano are fine. Next, pour in a decent selection of fish (dead ones, of course). You can use tuna, sprats, anchovies or anything else that comes to hand. If you have some fish guts and blood, tip that in too. Now cover with a liberal sprinkling of salt, about the depth of two fingers' width. Add another layer of fish, guts and blood, then more salt, and carry on like this until the trough is almost full.

Next, pray to the gods for some decent weather, because you need to leave your fish sauce in waiting exposed to the sun for about twenty days, or longer if you want extra piquancy. I suggest you stir it thoroughly every day; a broom handle would make an excellent stirrer.

After around three weeks the stuff should be ready to bottle. Acquire some clean bottles or earthenware jars and tap the liquid that runs from the trough into them. Seal up your containers and keep them in a cool, dark place until you need to use them. The residue needn't be wasted, either. This can be squeezed and pounded into a popular fishy paste called allec.

Finally, some words of advice and of warning. First, the advice: I can't in all honesty tell you how long your garum will keep, because it smells and tastes exactly the same, whether it is fresh or "off". And the warning: if you intend making a career out of garum, you might want to consider moving to an unpopulated area.

Enjoy, and do let me know how you get on.


Janet said...

Would you be really offended if I take a pass on that?

chris hale said...

Fair enough; it's not to everyone's taste.

I acquired an interest in garum whilst I was researching for a treatise on Roman food and dining. The Romans had some funny ideas about food. Perhaps I'll dig around my ancient recipe books and find something a little less challenging in due course!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - I do believe that the first ketchups or catsups were essentially fish sauces - even the almighty and ubiquitous Heinz. Then, one day, someone said 'How about adding some tomatoes?'

'Tomatoes? That'll never work ...'

chris hale said...

Spot on as always, Stevyn.

Things would have been very different without the 'umble tomato. But fish and chips with fish catsup? Yum!