Now that the meat-eating revel of Easter is over, people’s thoughts are turning towards showing up on the beach in a swimsuit. New season tomatoes are making their appearance, so what better than a traditional horiatiki salad, made with tomatoes, cucumber, thinly sliced onions and peppers, and cubes of feta cheese. A bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of oregano, and you’ve got a light, nutritious lunch.
And for something more substantial, many turn to fish.
Fried white bait or little red mullet are delicious, but not particularly slimming – the best is a whole fish, simply grilled and accompanied by olive oil beaten with plenty of aromatic lemon juice.
When fish is fresh, sauces disguise its flavor, so unless you are in some fancy restaurant, you will usually get your fish plain. And yes, cooked with the head on, seeing as the best bits are the cheeks and the nape of the neck. A lot of non-Greeks find this gross, but it’s not as gross as another delicacy, the head of the Easter spit-roasted lamb! (from which I, personally, refrain.)
Having said that Greeks mostly eat their fish without sauce, I discovered that the ancients had invented a concoction called garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. It probably originated in Carthage, and Plato was the first to describe its disagreeable ‘rotten’ smell.
The preparation of garum is described in Roman and Byzantine texts. Small fish, left whole with their intestines, were mashed with salt and set to ferment in the sun. The mixture was occasionally stirred with a stick and finally filtered through layers of fine cloth, to make a condiment used to flavor meat and game, as well as fish and seafood.
Archaeological digs have brought to light garum production plants on the coast of North Africa, Portugal and elsewhere on the Mediterranean. These were placed far from inhabited areas because the smell was horrendous! The finished product, however, was supposed to have a pleasant, spicy odor. Garum was also known as liquamen, or hallex, and prices varied according to quality.
Apparently the nearest equivalent we have nowadays is Worcestershire sauce.
How’s that for the irrelevant information of the day?