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How a Ship Full of Fish Helped Recreate an Ancient Fish Sauce
Smithsonian Magazine ^ | 3-1-2012 | Peter Smith

Posted on 03/06/2012 10:18:22 AM PST by Renfield

If you’re like me, the last post on the convoluted origins of our favorite fermented condiment—ketchup—probably left you wondering: What is the difference between Roman garum than modern Thai fish sauce?

What little I know comes from an experiment performed by Sally Grainger, author of Cooking Apicus, recounted in the book Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods. Grainger is a British chef and an experimental archeologist. She looked at studies on fish sauce amphorae (ceramic vessels) from archeological sites in Spain and North Africa. One of her more fascinating sources comes from a 2,000-year-old shipwreck discovered off the coast of Grado, Italy. The ship was full of fish—maybe even live ones. Italian researchers found that the vessel contained what amounts to a giant fish tank—a hydraulic system capable of transporting 440 pounds of live parrotfish (Scarus ssp.) from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The wreck also contains 600 amphorae, some with well-preserved fish sauce inside.

Using these studies and a recipe from Geoponica, a 10th century collection of agricultural lore, as a guide, Grainger added salted sardines (Pilchardus sardines) and sprats (Sprattus sprattus) to barrels, put the barrels in a greenhouse, and covered the tops with cardboard. Then she waited two months. What’s surprising, Grainger found, was that the recreated ancient fish sauce appeared to be a lot less salty than its modern Southeast Asian counterparts, with just as much protein. Salt slows down the enzymatic process, so industrial-scale fish sauces today—what you might otherwise think of cheaply made “fast” food—actually take longer to make than the ancient brews. In other words, this old, “slow food” fermented faster.

On one final note, for those of you interested in doing some fishy home-brewing, Ken Albaba, author of the forthcoming Lost Arts of Hearth and Home, told me he made a batch last year. Albaba said it was fun and, moreover, “Not stinky in the least. Almost pure umami in fact.”


TOPICS: Food; History; Science
KEYWORDS: archaeology; food; garum; godsgravesglyphs; liquamen; romanempire; rome

1 posted on 03/06/2012 10:18:24 AM PST by Renfield
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To: SunkenCiv

Ancient condiment ping.


2 posted on 03/06/2012 10:19:09 AM PST by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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To: Renfield

I wouldn’t mind tasting this ancient stuff.


3 posted on 03/06/2012 10:21:50 AM PST by rfreedom4u (Just because someone thinks it's a good idea doesn't make it legal.)
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To: Renfield

Ya know how shrimp usually taste different at a Chinese restaurant than at home? Marinate your raw shrimp in some rice cooking wine, with a bit of fish sauce.


4 posted on 03/06/2012 10:26:54 AM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: Renfield

A precursor of Worchestershire sauce (which is made with fermented anchovies).


5 posted on 03/06/2012 10:31:47 AM PST by Leroy S. Mort
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To: Renfield; Lady Lucky

Garum self-pingy.


6 posted on 03/06/2012 10:40:32 AM PST by Lady Lucky (Gingrich 2012: Open Throttle for America)
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To: Renfield

nouc mam, excellent on Vietnamese dog meat sandwiches!


7 posted on 03/06/2012 10:40:51 AM PST by RitchieAprile
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To: RitchieAprile

Nouc mam? Try the prik num pla!


8 posted on 03/06/2012 10:50:14 AM PST by null and void (Day 1141 of America's ObamaVacation from reality [Heroes aren't made, Frank, they're cornered...])
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To: Dr. Bogus Pachysandra

“Marinate your raw shrimp in some rice cooking wine, with a bit of fish sauce.”

Sounds delicious! Do you cook the shrimp after marinating, and if so, what cooking method?


9 posted on 03/06/2012 11:00:47 AM PST by catnipman (Cat Nipman: Vote Republican in 2012 and only be called racist one more time!)
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To: null and void
Nouc mam? Try the prik num pla!
Let's not forget the prig dong, either :>)
10 posted on 03/06/2012 11:56:07 AM PST by dainbramaged (I nearly threw my pit bull at the television.)
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To: Renfield

How do I get on the ancient condiment ping list?


11 posted on 03/06/2012 12:39:33 PM PST by cizinec ("Brother, your best friend ain't your Momma, it's the Field Artillery.")
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To: catnipman

“Do you cook the shrimp after marinating, and if so, what cooking method?”

Stir fry the shrimp, and remove from wok. Stir fry any veggies that you like. Add the shrimp back in at the last minute. Serve. It doesn’t take much fish sauce to really do the marinade. Marinade them for about 15/20 minutes, stirring occasionally. I use Shao Hsing Rice Cooking Wine. Garnish with some chopped up green onion stalks. I like the dish made with Baby Bok Choy.


12 posted on 03/06/2012 12:48:46 PM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: catnipman

Should add that you don’t need much marinade. Just a little. Don’t drown the shrimp, just get ‘em wet, and stir once in a while.


13 posted on 03/06/2012 12:56:23 PM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: Dr. Bogus Pachysandra

This sounds great. Will be giving it a try.


14 posted on 03/06/2012 3:51:42 PM PST by catnipman (Cat Nipman: Vote Republican in 2012 and only be called racist one more time!)
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To: catnipman

You may have to experiment a bit, to get the right combination in the marinade. I just do it by instinct, cuz I’ve been cooking Chinese style for 45 years. I prefer to make my own Black Bean Garlic Sauce. Chinese lady friends,,,, etc,,,,... I couldn’t make a roast beef to save my life! Can’t cook Western/American style at all.


15 posted on 03/06/2012 4:20:24 PM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: RitchieAprile

It took me almost forty years to forget the taste of that crap. Thanks for reminding me.


16 posted on 03/06/2012 5:37:14 PM PST by Chuckster (The longer I live the less I care about what you think.)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


17 posted on 03/06/2012 7:48:40 PM PST by SunkenCiv (FReep this FReepathon!)
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To: cizinec

Not sure if that is a real ping list, but SunkenCiv’s ancient history ping list is one of the highlights of FR, IMHO.


18 posted on 03/06/2012 8:13:25 PM PST by El Sordo (The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.)
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To: Chuckster

You did not have the real nunc mam from Phu Quoc Island.
The real uncut stuff was great. It was after it was sent to the mainland that it was cut with god only knows what.


19 posted on 03/06/2012 8:57:31 PM PST by TaMoDee ( Lassez les bons temps rouler dans les 2012!)
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To: El Sordo; SunkenCiv
Not sure if that is a real ping list, but SunkenCiv’s ancient history ping list is one of the highlights of FR...
20 posted on 03/07/2012 4:28:53 AM PST by TheOldLady (FReepmail me to get ON or OFF the ZOT LIGHTNING ping list)
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To: dainbramaged; null and void; RitchieAprile
Nouc mam? Try the prik num pla!

Let's not forget the prig dong, either :>)

You people are killing me. I now have three things that I am dying to eat, yet it will be several more post-surgery weeks before I can get out of this house.

21 posted on 03/07/2012 5:23:54 AM PST by Scoutmaster (You knew the job was dangerous when you took it)
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