It’s not really correct to imply smoked fish is a specifically Medieval thing, and for that I apologize. People have been smoking fish since long before recorded history began, and we could have done this recipe at any point on this website’s culinary journey.
But as we touched on in episode 16 of the podcast, since both the diets and entire economies of northwestern Europe during the middle ages were so dependent on dried and smoked fish, now seemed an appropriate time to make some.
Though the fish of European Medieval times was herring, I was unable to locate any in my home town, so I opted for an all purpose recipe, for smoking just about any fish, as was done on Weber grills across the ages .
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.
There are many recipes in Apicius’s On Cookery which, while intriguing, I have little desire to taste. The sardine and gelatin omelette for instance, or the fried pork livers and brain sausages that were usually paired with the dish I’m making today.
But that so named “Dish of Scallops” is a recipe that caught my eye long ago when I started reading this stuff. It’s something I’ve always wanted to make and taste ever since. Given its mastery of the Mediterranean, Roman love of shellfish was… well, a given! Herem Apicius presents a delicious, exceedingly refined way to cook some.
Lightly cook scallops or the firm part of oysters. Remove the hard and objectionable parts, and mince the meat very fine. Mix this with cooked spelt, eggs, and season with pepper. Shape into croquettes and wrap in caul. Fry, and underlay a rich fish sauce and serve as a delicious entree.
We’re going to modify the instructions just a bit.
This is classic Ancient Greece. Though not necessarily limited to classical Ancient Greece.
From the earliest Neolithic settlers, up until the present day really, Octopus Salad represents an Aegean staple.
This is the ancient version, lacking citrus and using ingredients representative of the ingredients that were available. The simplest rendition of this is just cold octopus chopped up and tossed in olive oil. You don’t need more than that, but by adding barley, onions, garlic, greens, and fish sauce, tied with mustard for favorite ancient condiment of the world, we can really build up the flavor. Continue reading “Octopus Salad”
It’s a brief retelling of Aegean history, a story you’ve heard before, though perhaps not from a chef’s point of view. Come for the history, stay for the foods that made them special. By mastering the sea, the olive, and the grape vine, the Greeks found their own winds toward civilization.
Music by Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. His original composition “Plato’s Symposium” and the whole album The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre and much more are available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.
Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but is not an actual Egyptian recipe. There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.
But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses. Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.
This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides. Continue reading “Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad”
A very simple recipe to kick off our month of ancient Andean recipes. This invented meal is composed of some of the kinds of ingredients the Norte Chico, first civilization of South America on the coasts of Peru, might have had available for a hearty supper.
Potato, Sweet Potato, Edo, and corn (not yet cooked)
The people living at Norte Chico in modern Peru got most of their direct food from the ocean, but they also traded that surplus of marine life for a very diverse rest of the diet. Up in the mid and highlands of the Andes, all kinds of foods were being cultivated and domesticated.