Ancient Roman Fermented Fish Sauce

You might say that garum, an ancient Roman condiment made from fermented fish viscera, was the ketchup of its day—or perhaps the Worcestershire sauce of its day, says BobB. "There were many variations, from low to high quality, and as many different uses," he says. "The finest versions were made exclusively from fish livers, and were renowned for their medicinal properties (think cod liver oil). Who says the ancients didn't understand the need for vitamins?"

"Garum is a specialty of the Amalfi Coast port town of Cetara; it is known there as colatura di alici (anchovy) and is often a component of pasta dishes (usually with long pasta such as spaghetti) in the town and beyond," says erica.

Cremon says that "the very best garum in ancient Rome was made from only the viscera or intestines of the mackerel fish. Then lower grades were made from other parts of the fish or other fish entirely." To put this into context, in Thai and Vietnamese fish sauces, the entire fish is fermented.

The pungent flavor never goes out of style. "We recently took a one-day cooking class in Provence with a chef who is an expert on traditional Provencal and Roman recipes," says Ms.M. "We made a wonderful roast chicken dish that was slathered with a sauce made with honey, mustard, milled spices—and Thai fish sauce! Talk about stinky fermented anchovies...and a rich, deep, flavorful sauce!"

But like a very flavorful olive oil, excellent garum is for dressing, not cooking. "Cooking the colatura di alici will greatly reduce its flavor," says PoppiYYZ.

Discuss: Roman rotted fish sauce