Ancient Greek Fish on Friday

One of the blogs I follow is Pass the Garum. They recently moved to a new site, by the way. As you know from reading this blog for a while, garum is a fermented fish sauce that the Romans put on everything. It is rather like modern Vietnamese fish sauce.

As I was contemplating how to prepare Friday supper, I found an interesting recipe at the aforementioned blog for Baked Mackerel and Cheese. That’s mackerel and cheese, not macaroni and cheese.  Even though, these days, Romans are starting to experiment a bit with cheese on fish… a heresy… it seems that in the ancient world there was no such reluctance.

The blog has the source of this inspiration:

“When you’re by the sea at Carthage, bake some bream after washing it well.  You’ll find great big bream in Byzantium too, their bodies the size of round shields!  Work with the fish whole.  Once you have coated the fish with cheese and oil, hang it up in a hot clay oven and bake it through.  Once done, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and drench it with divine grey-green oil.”

Archestratus [mid-4th c. BC – a source for ancient Greek food] fr. 13, as recorded in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 320b-c

I was short of bream, and also of mackerel.  I had some cod, however.  Friday… Lent and all…

The approach is simple.  Grate cheese and make a paste of it with olive oil.

Smear it onto your fish.

Bake it at 350° F.   When it is finished (the recipe said 20 minutes but mine took a bit more… it’s a toaster oven), sprinkle it with salt and herbs.

Meanwhile, toast some salt and your spice: cumin.  I didn’t have cumin seeds, alas, but I did have some grated.

When finished, sprinkle with the spices.  NB: broccolini and lemon.

I’d like to do this again, but with seeds and with a better cheese, perhaps with a different fish as well.  But, in a pinch and with what I had on hand, this was pretty darn tasty.  I’ll probably broil rather than bake, depending on the thickness of the fish.

There is also a recipe for Mackerel in a Coriander Crust, which I am going to try.  That’s from Apicius, as it turns out.

So, be creative with your Friday repast.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Clemens Romanus says:

    Looks delicious! I must try.

  2. Siculum says:


    You need a stove. I wish I could give you an extra one we have. Not that you could use it at the current SPTDV, necessarily…..

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