How to Make the Ancient Roman Fish Sauce Garum at Home

kentnk2009, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
kentnk2009, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / kentnk2009, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you're looking for a new quarantine cooking project, consider making an Ancient Roman recipe for fish sauce in your kitchen. To cook it, you'll need a pound of salt, two pounds of fish, and a high tolerance for strong smells.

For his YouTube series Tasting History, host Max Miller shares the history behind old recipes while recreating them as faithfully as possible from home. In the video below, he highlights garum: a fish sauce that was a beloved condiment in Ancient Rome.

Traditionally, garum is made by layering oily fish, herbs, and salt in a barrel and allowing the mixture to sit in the sun for months until the ingredients break down into a pungent, fermented liquid. This fermentation method also produces an odor that's hard to ignore, so for Miller's version, he chose a recipe from the 10th century agriculture book Geoponica that speeds up the process by boiling the fish in water.

Rotten fish juice may sound like an unusual culinary relic, but several versions of it are still enjoyed today. Fish sauce is popular in parts of Asia, and Worcestershire sauce—which contains anchovies—is produced in England. Garum was also similar to ancient ketchup, which was originally made from fermented fish guts. Most modern versions of the condiment no longer feature the funky ingredient.

Garum was served with a variety of dishes in Ancient Rome, including salads, savory meats, and desserts. You can investigate the sauce's appeal for yourself by following along with the recipe in Tasting History's video below.