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Garum fish sauce

The recipe was a basic sauce popular throughout the Roman Empire as an accompaniament to many meals

Much of this info about garum was taken from this cool website: Pass the Garum. Some was rewritten and reused. Over time, I hope to have some photos and more information. Our friend Marcvs has made this a number of times and while disgusting to watch being made, it came out more or less a clearish color and without odor...

For the definitive writings on garum, please click here to read this an enlightening bit from Sally Grainger's book Cooking apicius and used with her kind permission.

Fish Sauce


Nothing is so synonymous with Roman cuisine as garum, and nothing is as misunderstood. Few ingredients make people feign illness or roll their eyes as much as fish sauce--well, for those of us not living in South East Asia at least. People expect it to smell horrible and taste worse, and the idea of adding it to any meal is enough to make stomachs turn. Fish sauce is, however, not very fishy at all. Rather it is salty, with hints of cheese and meat. Its purpose in a recipe is not to stand out on its own, but rather to bring the other flavours together in harmony, something which it does exceedingly well. It will surely surprise you to learn that garum does not actually appear on its own in Apicius — rather, it is Liquamen which we use when we cook Roman food. Whilst both are sauces made from fermented fish, they are actually rather different in nature.

Garum is a condiment made from the fermented blood and innards of selected fish. Being a condiment, it was something which was added to food after cooking, much as we might use soy sauce or tomato ketchup - it was the diner who used it, not the cook.

Liquamen on the other hand is a sauce made by fermenting the whole fish, rather than just its blood and innards. This is exactly the same as modern day Asian fish sauces, such as nam pla and nuoc nam.

Recipe for Garum

Use a collection of oily, fatty fish like those from the list below:

  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herrings
  • Pilchard


  • 2lbs Fish, prederably a fatty fish, for example, sardines or best, mackerel
  • Dried, aromatic herbs possessing a strong flavor, such as:
    • dill
    • coriander
    • fennel
    • celery
    • mint
    • oregano
    • and others of this sort
  • 3½ oz capers
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tblsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tblsp fresh marjoram, finely chopped
  • 1 tblsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tblsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt, a lot of it


  • Begin with a well-sealed (pitched) container (heavy crock with a lid) with a 26-35 quart capacity.
  • Add dried, aromatic herbs possessing a strong flavor, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others, making a layer on the bottom of the container.
  • Next put down a layer of fish (if small, leave them whole, if large, use pieces).
  • Next, add a layer of salt two fingers deep.
  • Repeat these layers until the container is filled.
  • Let it rest for seven days in the sun — yes, outside, that's why you want a good lid on the container or your garum factory will become a kitty snack bar.
  • Then mix the contents daily for 20 days. After that, it becomes a liquid.
  • Now start straining. First use a coarse strainer or colander to remove all the larger bits and pieces, then strain the liquid several times through a kitchen cloth until the liquid is a clear amber color.
  • Place in a sterilized, covered bottle in the fridge.
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