Garum is a success! Why has an ancient recipe become a phenomenon?

“And we also add garum to it”, you will hear this phrase from a number of ambitious chefs today. From the first bite, you’ll understand why garum is such a hit: incredibly intense and deepens the taste, it’s literally an explosion of umami, without stealing the lead role, but giving a fantastic kick to the ingredients used in the food. And you can add it to almost anything. What is a garum? And where does it come from?

Garum (correctly Czech is middle class and comes in: garum, gara, garu…, which chefs will cough up and probably use the term garumko) was long before us, as it formed the basis of ancient Roman cuisine. Although the ancient Greeks took credit for producing this aroma, they used the term garos for it.

The Romans then made it famous, and it is an exaggeration to say that ketchup resembled them for most of the population of the time. They added it to almost everything, at least according to the recipes in Apicio’s cookbook: meats, sauces, fish, soups, fruits, desserts.

How is an umami born? Look:

The smell of fermented fish

When you consider what and how garum was made, its universal use is very surprising. The intensely flavored sauce was created by fermenting small fish in salt. The base consisted of sardines, anchovies and mackerel, the larger fish were sliced, the small ones remained whole, layered in containers with a large amount of salt and left to ferment.

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The recipe has evolved over time and has also varied locally. In some places, the containers were left in the sun for several weeks or months, their contents were stirred daily and, at the end of the process, the liquid obtained was filtered. Elsewhere the fish and salt were piled up in baskets, and below were placed vessels in which the fermented liquid flowed. The longer the fermentation, the more pronounced the taste and the more valuable the garum.

Demand was high, so garum was produced in bulk at factories. They usually settled somewhere outside of town, as the hard-to-tolerate smell of fermenting fish wafted around them, but the seaside was quite dense anyway. The finished sauce was then dispensed into amphorae similar to wine, the container usually did not lack information about the fish used to prepare the product.

However, as the glory of the Roman Empire faded, garum also fell into oblivion. The production of colatura di alici sauce, considered the successor to gara, continued in Campania. Garum has been resurrected for contemporary gastronomy by the experimenters at Scandinavian restaurant Nomawhose kitchen is run by René Redzepi. Garum fell on the wave of fermentation, which has dominated modern food preparation as a rediscovered traditional process and a way to recover raw materials and put them to maximum use.

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With the help of mold

The current method of preparing garrison is much more environmentally friendly, so no vat full of stinky fish is more reminiscent of lab experiments. Modern parish preparation takes into account cereals infected with fungi koji (used, for example, to make miso passports), these replace the digestive enzymes in the digestive tract of fish that took care of fermentation in the original historic recipe.

It is necessary to control the temperature, the amount of salt, the weather and the humidity, these variables play a role in the duration of maturation of the garum and its quality. The advantage of such a controlled process and the use of koji spores is that almost anything can be fermented, not just fish. The fermented sauce can thus be prepared from different types of meat or mushrooms.

This results in a double effect, on the one hand a fantastic flavor is created and on the other hand leftovers from the kitchen are processed, such as meat, fish, vegetables or mushrooms. Thus, the potential for vegetarian variations of the sauce opens up here. It is always true that garum has an extremely wide range of uses and you can taste almost anything with it, moreover, it is a purely natural product that benefits our body – that is the reason why you should add garum to soup or sauce rather than conventional flavoring mixed with various chemical ingredients.

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In addition to soups or sauces, gara’s deep, distinctive taste is suitable for finishing a variety of meats – at the Prague restaurant Eska they add garum to, among other things, a fantastic tartare, simply prepared pasta, pizza or risotto, salad dressings, hummus and spreads or various vegetable treatments.

Thanks to the garage, the vegetables will acquire a much stronger and richer taste, thanks to which they will satisfy even those who otherwise would have a piece of meat. This is one of the reasons why gar is considered the food of the future, it could help us start eating more vegetables with a big injection of umami and not craving meat so much.

magic sauce at home

Until now, most chefs prepare Garum in their own restaurants, enlightened, progressive and ambitious. Where they bake their own bread, beat butter, old meat, and ferment, whatever, they’ll probably also produce garum.

The good news is that we can already buy this magic sauce at home. Chef Erik Cehlár focused on developing the gara recipe, and the result is now available under the Goodlok brand, which focuses on producing fresh, fermented drinks. The waste production fell into the local fermentation incubator, where they experimented with pollen garlic, oysters, chicken scraps, yeast or mushrooms. So far you can buy chicken garum and two versions of mushrooms, lighter white and more pronounced brown mushrooms.

Erik advises not to be afraid of experiments and try to spread the garem when baking a bun or loaf or adding it to ice cream. I recommend you to start with the gar, you will immediately fail and discover the best taste combinations very spontaneously and quickly.

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