If I had to name just one ingredient that was key to the ancient world’s cuisine, it might be fish sauce.
All you need are fish and a lot of salt. An ingenious method of food preservation, its invention too deep in the past to ever know, alongside other legendary foods of yore like bread, beer, and cheese.
From Sumer onwards, almost all civilizations seem to have made the stuff. But it was the Romans who called it “garum” and recorded it into history. Fish sauce could be made at home by poor fishermen families, but there was also a highly expensive market for the very finest vintages of garum. Whatever quality, you can’t make Roman cuisine without it.
I did forget one more key ingredient to making garum: TIME! Because fish sauce must age and ferment for 2 months plus, this is part 1 of the recipe, which will be completed when the fish sauce is!
Other than the waiting part, it’s easy to make. I didn’t measure the salt , but for 2 lbs. of sardines, you will need at least half a box of coarse salt to do it properly. Ere on the side of more, as it’s almost impossible to add too much.
Cut up the whole fish (heads, guts, and all) into 1 inch pieces. I used sardines.
In a gallon size jar, pour an inch of salt. Add a single layer of fish parts on top, then top with more salt, enough to cover so you can’t see the fish at all. Repeat, layering the fish and salt alternatively, with a final salt layer on the top.
Let ferment at room temperature for 3 days. The fish will release a lot of their own water. Next, open the container (outside!) and stir the fish and salt layers together. Then add enough water to cover.
Let ferment another 3 days, and then move to the fridge. By now, the dark color should be developing and the fish should be starting to dissolve
AGE IN THE FRIDGE FOR AT LEAST 2 MONTHS, UP TO 6. Many fish sauces are aged for years, but require additional techniques to process properly. Ours is a simple version.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to open the jar every week or so (can’t stress enough outside!) to burp it and prevent too much pressure building up.
Keep an eye on the front page in a few months for part 2!