Testing Apicius' classic Roman recipes, even if it kills us.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Garum - Veni, Vidi, Vomui
This is a repost of a blog from the Buenos Aires Herald called "Is that so?" by Dereck Foster.
I thought that this was an interesting addition to to the topic of Garum. I added the pictures to keep it interesting.
A few things I'd like to note:
I find it really interesting that the author describes the fermentation process as being from the bacteria in the intestines of the fish. It makes me wonder if the bacteria in the garum acted as a sort of probiotic for the Romans that kept their stomaches happy.
Additionally, I learned that the Romans got this anchovial abomination from the Greeks, whom I had always thought had better taste than that.
I nearly gagged when I read about the manufacturers feeding the garum waste to the poor! Bleech! Imagine having to eat the leftover stuff that isn't good enough to be rotted fish sauce!
Additionally, I think that another takeaway from this article is that this stuff was expensive, and they used it sparingly. I think that my experiences with the sauce may have been spoiled by too generous of application...
One last thing- I don't know what the author is speaking of regarding there being three Apicii (pl. of Apicius). Can anyone shed some light on this!?
Is that so?
When in Rome...
By Dereck Foster
For the Herald
...Eat as the Romans do. OK that is easy to do today, but anybody interested in the history of food and delves if only lightly into the foods and customs of ancient Rome, will discover that Italian cuisine -as we call it today- has come a long and curious way since the days of the Caesars.
One of the most obvious and frequently consulted sources have been the writing and jottings of one gentleman gourmet known as Apicius (although there is argument as to whom one refers because it seems that there existed three persons that go (went) by that name. What is not in discussion, however, is that one of the basics of Roman cuisine was a condiment that is known (but hardly eaten today) by the name of garum. In an age when it is almost impossible to eat without the help of some condiment or other — be it ketchup, mustard or chimichurri — it cannot surprise us that the Romans, while unable to count with the profusion of sauces — which are our inheritance — counted with one all encompassing sample that, as has been asserted by more than one historian, was an absolute passion and without which it was practically impossible to conceive a meal.
Although it was the Romans who adopted garum with such fanaticism, they actually inherited garum from the Greeks so that we must consider this strange sauce as a Grecian contribution to international gastronomy. Thankfully, it has now passed the baton to what we today consider more refined and suitable substitutes. More than once attempts have been made to imitate the Roman product in modern times, but the results have not raised any hopes of a reintroduction of this sauce into our modern gastronomy.
What exactly is — or was — garum? If we take nuoc-nam as an example, we come fairly close to what garum was to the Romans. This South-East Asian condiment comes as close as possible to a Roman garum as the experts agree, although there are aspects of its making that differ. According to the best ancient Roman sources, garum was basically a maceration of the intestines of mackerel or anchovies with salt and left out in the sun until the mix was completely decomposed (or rather digested by the action of the natural microbes found in the fish). At this point carefully calculated amounts of aromatic herbs were added; (almost everybody had his or her secret recipe). The mixture was then passed through a very fine strainer so as to separate the solid from the liquid. The liquid was then bottled and left to mature (much like a wine). The solids left over were not discarded; they were given to the poor who used it to mix into their porridges and stews.
In those days — up to the demise of the Roman Empire, garum was considered much finer and more expensive than oysters — another Roman passion — and caviar. According to Maguelonne Toussaint- Samat, in her History of Foods, something like close to four litres of garum cost the equivalent (in 1990) of 4000 pounds sterling. However, in most cases only a few drops of garum were required to improve almost any food the Romans indulged in.