ROME, June 30 ― Straight from the fermented food aisle, here's a way to spice up your fish carpaccios and salmon poke bowls with a condiment that more and more chefs are making their own: garum. Here's the lowdown on this fishy concoction enjoyed all the way back in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome.

You take the flesh, but also the bones or guts of sea bream, sea bass, mackerel, sardines etc. Put the lot into a big container and fill it with salt. Then, wait for fermentation to take place. You can already imagine the smell that must emanate from this concoction... it's enough to make you wince. Yet this mixture, known as garum, was a must in the culinary repertoire of the Greeks and Romans. In Latin, it means “sauce” or “juice.”

This fermented paste is today being used by a growing number of chefs seeking to enhance the taste of their dishes by adding a touch of the famous fifth flavor, described by the Japanese as umami. Used like salt by the Romans, garum is indeed characterised by its pungent, long-lasting and highly engulfing flavour.

In the realm of fermented foods currently making the culinary headlines ― like kombucha, kefir or kimchi ― garum is the latest in a line of trendy recipes. As proof, a veggie version developed by the chef René Redzepi ― of the world's best restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen ― has been the talk of the town for several days among Instagram-frequenting foodies. Even the most serious media reported on the creation! It is, in fact, the very first delicatessen product that the prestigious Danish establishment is marketing to the general public. It took no less than two years to develop this fermented mushroom-based paste. And Maison Dehesa, a supplier of fermented, cured and matured products to top chefs, needed the same amount of time to cook up its own garum, which is made from bluefin tuna bottarga ― its specialty product ― and large-caliber anchovies matured for two years.

How to use garum

This age-old sauce, which is now available in high-end grocery stores, could help make your summer dishes more exciting, especially fish dishes. Available as a paste or in liquid form, garum can be added as a small touch to raw sea bream carpaccio or homemade sushi. Or why not try it in a poke bowl?

In fact, you have to imagine using garum as you would a grind of salt over your plate. Be careful not to be too heavy-handed, as garum has a powerful flavour!

And if this new find doesn't tempt you in this particular form, bear in mind that there are already modern takes on garum, such as “nuoc mam” fish sauce used in Vietnamese cuisine or anchovy paste. In France, one of its variants is found in the form of pissalat. A specialty from the culinary repertoire of Nice, this condiment is prepared with sardines and anchovies and gave its name to the famous pissaladière. ― ETX Studio