The Greek manner of preparing fish is, as we have learnt, simple yet successful - cook it as you catch it, and if you absolutely have to touch it, stick to a sprinkle of cheese or a pinch of cumin. Now, it's back to the beautiful complexity of Roman recipes, with lists of ingredients as long as your sword and a journey of flavours as epic as the Illiad.
At first glance, Apicius offers a vast array of seafood sauces, but a closer look reveals that they are all virtually identical! Common to almost all of them are pepper, mint, lovage, rue, dates, honey, oil, and vinegar. The Romans clearly liked their fish to be swimming with sweetness. Let's see how well that works.
Roman Seafood Sauce
(Serves 2 as main, or several as a starter)
"Pepper, Lovage, Celery Seed, Mint, Rue, Figdate or Date Syrup, Honey, Vinegar, Wine. Also suitable for sardines." - Apicius, ix.10.5
|This is without the mint, and plus soap|
(which you probably shouldn't use)
- 2 Mackerel Fillets
- Small Handful Fresh Mint
- 1/2 tsp Lovage Seeds (or Celery Seed)
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Rue
- 1 tbsp Date Paste
- 1 tbsp Honey
- 2 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 50 ml White Wine
- Add the rue, lovage and pepper to a dry frying pan and heat them until they start to give off an aroma. At this point, remove them and grind them up.
- Combine all the liquids, herbs and spices in a food processor and let loose. If you wish to use a mortar and pestle, make sure to chop the mint up first.
- This is what you're going to marinate the fish in for a few hours, so once you have prepared the fish fillets, combine everything together in a shallow casserole dish. This goes into the fridge for a couple of hours.
- I cooked the fish, sauce and all, in an earthenware dish on a gas hob for around 25 minutes. If you want, you can place the whole lot in an oven at 180 Celsius for 20 minutes to achieve the same effect. Grainger suggests removing the fish from the marinade, cooking it on a griddle, then heating and pouring over some of the sauce.
- The recipe isn't much of a recipe, but rather a list of ingredients.
- I chose not to use both celery seed and lovage, because their flavours are remarkably similar. Instead, I chose to use more of just one, rather than a little of each.
- As ever, I advise you to use caution with the rue - if in doubt, leave it out!
I couldn't wait to try this, so dropped the knife and fork and tucked straight in with hands and fingers. It was beautiful, sharing that same 'tangy-sweetness' common to so much Roman cooking. The fish was delicate and soft and had soaked up a lot of sweetness from the honey and date paste. The initial taste came from the sharpness of the vinegar and wine, but was soon tempered by the fragrance of the mint. This fish was surprisingly rich in comparison to the cheesy-fish of the Greeks, which is why I reckon it would do two people as a main - I would be inclined to serve it as a starter for several people instead. Overall, I think that my favourite ancient fish recipe is last week's ancient Greek Mackerel with Cumin, Cheese, and Oil, but it's up to you to decide which you prefer.