It’s almost Anthrochef’s 2 year anniversary. And to celebrate, we’re starting a recipe that will take 2 years to fully cook! That’s right, we’re fermenting some soy sauce from scratch.
I can think of few better examples of the power of human cultural tradition then something like soy sauce. Honestly, who first decided to make a soy and wheat dough, let it get moldy, dry it out, then let it ferment in brine for 2 years before consuming what resulted as a foodstuff??
It’s remarkable that people figured this out.
This recipe is a couple weeks of actual work, and then indeed a very long 1-2 year waiting period for the sauce to fully age (Full disclosure, this post is actually just part 1…) . It’s worth it though. Homemade soy sauce has an earthy, umami rich flavor that’s hard to locate in a store, even in the best Asian markets.
It will be a little scary eating this moldy soy dough brine when all is through, but we have a few elements on our side to battle any bad bacteria. Sunlight is key to the soy sauce fermentation process and also good at killing off bad microbes. Also, using charcoal as a weight should soak up some impurities from the water. Finally, when we strain this out a year from now, we’re going to boil before serving, one last measure of food safety before consuming this potent, delicious sauce.
We started a batch of what the Romans called Garum, a delicacy across Ancient cultures: fish sauce! The gross way to say it? Fermented fish guts.
It’s been almost 8 weeks. My layers of salted, chopped sardines have been fermenting in the fridge, their essence dissolving in salt. This could go for much longer, but I think it’s ready to strain and try!
I made Liquid Gold:
Line a mesh strainer with two double layers (yes, a lot) of cheese cloth, pouring in the fish mixture. It will take a long time to strain this way, but you will be rewarded with a cleaner sauce. Feel free to stir to help the process along.
I HIGHLY suggest doing this outside!
And that’s it! The end result is a sauce that’s similar, but also distinct from fish sauce bought in the store. It’s actually less fishy, with more of a delicious, meaty, umami blast of saltiness. It’s great in stirfries, mixed with other things into dipping sauces, or added just a couple drops at a time to nearly anything to give great depth of flavor. It’s no wonder civilizations across history and geography have all enjoyed their own versions of garum.
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.
The invention of the dumpling might be as early as the invention of dough and boiled water. Dumplings may have been around before breads or even porridge, perhaps the first, simplest way humans figured out how to cook wild grains.
Hand ground millet may not produce the most beautiful dumplings, but these boiled lumps of dough and “filling” are meant to be a more primitive style proto-dumpling, the kind of early processes that would eventually lead to the later artistry of dumpling making in Ancient all the way to modern China.
As for fermented vegetables, while we feature them for our early Chinese dumplings recipe, Ancient China was by no means the only group of peoples to ferment vegetables. The simple process of brining food in salt water for several days to induce natural preservation and robust pickly flavor (unknown at the time to be microbial life and fermentation) was practiced all over the Ancient world, on all kinds of foods.
You can ferment any vegetable and use any spices you want. Really. Anything. Be like a true ancient and never be afraid to experiment. Here is a mix of in season veggies from my garden: carrots, green and wax beans, and rhubarb, with fresh coriander seeds and a couple cloves of garlic. All of which, though maybe in more primitive forms, would have been available in Europe and Asia long ago.