In ancient times, garum, the fermented fish sauce, was made from the entrails of fresh fish placed in vats and layered with salt – and sometimes herbs – then pressed with a stone to extract the essence. It was used as a seasoning to add salinity and umami to dishes, and was so concentrated that only a few drops were needed. Commonly, garum was diluted in olive oil, wine and vinegar to make sauces, or diluted with water for drinking.
Today, colatura d'alici, the more refined product from Campania, is made with whole anchovies, while many restaurants are venturing into making their own garum, including Noma, which uses a variety of ingredients, such as beef and squid, and even bee pollen.
Ben Devlin, of Pipit in Pottsville, NSW, has also been experimenting. "We make most of ours with seafood – prawn head and oyster are really nice," he says. "Our green garlic garum is a little different in that it is a vegan sauce made with similar techniques."
At Saint Peter in Sydney, the team turn fish bits into their own garum; while in Perth, Guy Grossi's osteria, called Garum, uses it in the butter served with crab ravioli, and in just about everything else. Nino Zoccali, of Sydney's Pendolino, particularly likes it in braises and pasta.
A Thai or Korean fish sauce is a good substitute, but remember that the flavour and saltiness will vary, so use whatever you choose as you would salt, and season to taste.
Garum fish stew
20 mins preparation time (plus preparing crab) | 1 hr 5 mins cooking time | serves 6
"I like to use garum in braises and pasta dishes – it adds more sweetness than using salt," says Zoccali. I find it is particularly good with tomatoes and slow-cooked leeks or squid-ink pasta, as well as in this fish stew." This stew also goes brilliantly with soft polenta.
Recipe by Nino Zoccali