More on garum

The Cranky Professor has a good post tying into our investigation of an ancient Roman recipe.

He deals with the dating of the Vesuvius eruption and.. garum!

mmmmm…. garummmmm

Garum, made from fermenting fish in saltwater, was basically the ketchup of the ancient Romans. It boasted a much appreciated sweet and sour taste, and was used on almost on every dish, often substituting expensive salt.

Most likely it was widely available at the numerous open air trattorias, known as thermopolia, where Pompeian “fast food” was served. The sunken jars on the counter contained spiced wine, stews of meat or lentils as well as garum.

Producing garum was relatively simple. A garum maker such as Aulus Umbricius Scaurus would have first placed a layer of fish entrails on a bed of dried, aromatic herbs such as coriander, fennel, celery, mint and oregano.

Then he would have covered the fish entrails under a layer of salt about two fingers high. The layer sequence — herbs, fish and salt — was repeated until the container was filled. The concoction was then left in the sun to macerate for a week or so, and the sauce was mixed daily for about 20 days.

The process produced a smelly liquid — a local delicacy to the Romans.

“Pompeii’s last batch of garum was made with bougues, a fish that was cheap and easy to find on the market in those summer months. Still today, people living in this region make a modern version of garum, called “colatura di alici” or anchovy juice, in July when this fish abounds on the markets,” Ciarallo said.

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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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31 Responses to More on garum

  1. Kradcliffe says:

    Um… this sounds like something I’d have to try without actually knowing what was in it or how it was made.

  2. AM says:

    Ah, PATIS – that’s Tagalog (Filipino) for fish sauce.

  3. Rob F. says:

    Kradcliffe, you probably already have; it’s called Worcestershire sauce.

    Actually, Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies, not bougues.

  4. Guy Power says:

    Sounds like what is called nuk-mam in Vietnamese or pla-nam (fish water) in Thai. The clearer the “sauce”, the purer (and less fishy). I’ve had champaigne-colored nuknam that was delightful …. and the coal-black stuff that tasted like liquid fish.

    Cheers!

  5. Rouxfus says:

    There’s a great book on this subject: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. It details how important salt was as a commodity throughout history, but especially with regards to Roman history. It was the strategic commodity of that time, as petroleum products are now. Fermented and pickled products such as garum were an essential way to preserve perishables such as fish, as well as providing salutary flavors for their meals.

  6. Gio says:

    Father Z,

    Where did that bottle of PATIS in the picture come from? As what AM has said, in the Philippines, fish sauce is called PATIS. Are you sure it did not come from the Philippines? Well, If it came from somewhere in Europe, then I suspect that the Filipino fish sauce called PATIS is of European and origin.

  7. It is possible that patis came to the Philippines from Spain, as is the case with much of their cuisine. (I just introduced a closing tag for italics. I hope it worked.)

  8. Matt Q says:

    Gio wrote:

    “As what AM has said, in the Philippines, fish sauce is called PATIS. Are you sure it did not come from the Philippines? Well, If it came from somewhere in Europe, then I suspect that the Filipino fish sauce called PATIS is of European and origin.”

    )(

    Perhaps it is likely it did come from Europe given the place is named after Phillip II of Spain and conquered by them.

    This garum ( and the Roman recipe ) sounds interesting since I like seafood but I can’t think of what I could possibly eat it with it or what to put it on.

    A curious question. No one had a botulism ( botox–LOL ) issue or health issues related to hypertension?

  9. Tina in Ashburn says:

    YES!!! Nuk-mam is deelish. Learned to love it as a child in Saigon. In most restaurants it is referred to as ‘fish sauce’ but it has many different forms.

    Interesting how different cultures present the same fermented foods throughout the world. [And fermented foods are crucial to healthy guts.] I’ve noticed how different cultures create the same foods with different names or slightly different techniques. Makes me wonder about Panagea and the world before the flood.

    Never heard of Patis or Garum. How interesting. Thanks Fr Z.

  10. Gio says:

    David,

    I’m from the Philippines. Yes, much of what most people here think as traditional Filipino food actually came from Spain. Though this is the first time I’ve seen patis in a non Filipino context.

  11. Tina in Ashburn says:

    okay. who turned on the italics?
    i didn’t do it.

  12. David D. says:

    Garum produced in what is now present day Spain was apparently highly prized by the Romans and the Philippines was indeed a Spanish colony. Filipino patis, however, is simply a byproduct of bagoong, a Filipino fish paste made from fermented fish often anchovy. I’d be interested to find out the link between garum and patis.

  13. I wonder if readers in the USA are familiar with the English Patum Pepperium, better known as The Gentleman’s Relish. Essentially, it is anchovy based, but the exact recipe has always been kept secret. It’s very good.

  14. Kradcliffe says:

    “Kradcliffe, you probably already have; it’s called Worcestershire sauce.

    Actually, Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies, not bougues.”

    La,la,la,la,laaaa! I can’t hear you! La, la, la…

  15. Agnes B. Bullock says:

    We should consult Lindsey Davis, authoreress extraordinaire and creator of the character Marcus Didius Falco, about garum – how it is made and consumed- How about with turbot?

  16. Fr. Gary V. says:

    From Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_sauce

    Garum is frequently maligned as being bad smelling or rotten. For example, it has been described as an “evil-smelling fish sauce” made of fish ranging from tuna, mackerel, and moray eel to anchovies (Introduction to Paul Wilkinson, Pompeii: The Last Day, London BBC Productions 2003). This attitude derives in part from ancient authors who satirized the condiment, but mostly from the fact that fish sauce was generally unknown in the Western world until very recently. The truth is quite different, and in fact garum only smelled when it was being made. Once the process was complete it had a pleasant aroma for as long as it was usable.

  17. Jim Dorchak says:

    I am wondering if Fr Z sneaks good olive oil back in his luggage when he comes back from europe?

    Jim Dorchak

  18. Alan says:

    “Most likely it was widely available at the numerous open air trattorias, known as thermopolia, where Pompeian “fast food” was served. The sunken jars on the counter contained spiced wine, stews of meat or lentils as well as garum.”

    I saw those places when I was in Pompeii, I though they looked like classical McDonald’s.

  19. Jim D: That has happened on occasion.

  20. Alan: You were right!

  21. Jim Dorchak says:

    Fr Z

    Ok what is the best EVOO?

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

    Jim Dorchak

  22. Jim Dorchak says:

    Fr Z

    Some one said that you were a Former Pro Cheif. Is that true and if so how about a little back ground.

    Jim Dorchak

  23. Margaret says:

    I don’t care if Worcestershire sauce is a distant cousin of this stuff. I am ten weeks pregnant, and just reading that vile description of how to make putrid fishy juice is turning my stomach over and over. [Wow... I mean... just .... wow...]

  24. Federico says:

    Ok, so you can still get garum, or stuff like it. The article refers to colatura di alici which I think is correctly identified as a very similar (and sublime) substance. The best, IMHO, is made in Cetara (and visiting Cetara is worthwhile in itself, a stone’s throw from the resting place of St. Andrew the Apostle, but I digress.)

    But the real question is: what do you do with it?

    Here’s one answer I like.

    Take abundant garlic and crush it. Simmer it in olive oil (I like Val di Mazara or Terra di Otranto DOP oils) until it begins to become blond (avoid brown, you can cool the mix quickly by adding a little cool oil). Add oil cured black olives (ideally with a hint of orange rind and pitted) and top notch capers (from the islands of Pantelleria or Salina, obviously). After it’s cooled, addd the colatura and set aside.

    Cook spaghetti or vermicelli in unsalted (or just barely salted) water. Toss in the salty, fishy, oily mess you made ahead of time together with lots of fresh chopped parsley.

    Optional: toss breadcrumbs in a frying pan with olive oil and a hint of sugar until they brown. Sprinkle over the pasta.

    Tip: if you don’t have any colatura you can make a passable substitute (succedaneo) by mushing salted anchovies in olive oil. But this is merely passable.

    Drink a sharp flinty wine with it. If you’re lucky enough to secure a bottle of Pietramarina by Benanti….you’ll be in heaven.

    Federico.

    P.S. Father Z, when are you in Rome next?

  25. Federico: Perhaps end of November, beginning of December.

  26. jun says:

    just a conjecture…that bottle with brandname Nelicom PATIS could have come from the Philippines. Nelicom is a manufacturer of fish sauces in the Philippines. With many filipinos residing in foreign countries, this product has become available worldwide

  27. Fr. Gary V. says:

    But the most famous Philippine brand is Rufina PATIS. Yum,yum.

  28. Maureen says:

    The point seems to be that the fish never gets a chance to be putrid. It’s pickled first — thus all the herbs and salt.

    What’s fooling you is that the pickling is taking place outside, instead of inside liquid and in a jar.

    I wonder if you could pickle cucumbers on a board, in layers, like that?

  29. Joeph Ravago says:

    MMMMMMMMM….Patis! It’s really good.

  30. John E. says:

    Nam-pla (or any fish sauce): “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell”