Fishheads! Fishheads! Roly Poly Fishheads!


I decided to enter a cooking competition! And not just any cooking competition but the highest falutin one I knew – The Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition!

So there!


And I was gonna do it right.

I was going to make garum!

From Scratch!

What is garum you ask? Are you some sort of Philistine? No, it is NOT some powdered Indian spice!

Garum, for the uninitiated, is a fish and wine based condiment sauce that served as the basis for most Roman cookery. No cook worth their weight would have been caught dead without it and huge factories made garum and sold it in the markets.

The closest modern equivalent would be Worcestershire sauce but comparing the two is the equivalent of saying Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill is related to a bottle of Chateau Lafitte Rothchild ’57. Seriously. You might just as well piss all over your salad.

So picture me at the market with ten pounds of salmon, three cardboard boxes of “box wine”, a huge box of kosher flake salt and a clerk saying “You’re going to do what?”

“I am fermenting fish.”

“Like pickled herring?”

“No, not like pickled herring!” and humphed my way through the checkout and clumped home.

Then, I made my first mistake.

The recipe called for gutting the fish and cutting it into pieces. After this, I put the fish in a large pan. The recipe called for a ceramic container but I didn’t have one so I used a big aluminum pot.

The fish really was excellent salmon. I am not a huge fish fan but the fillets had just the right amount of fat and smelled great. My feet were kept warm the entire time by my twin tiger-striped kittens hoping for a treat.

Then I made my second mistake.

As I was layering the fish, I realized that I didn’t have enough Kosher flake salt even though I had bought some. Therefore, I used Morton Iodized salt.

Pouring in the wine to cover, I placed a lid over the top of the pan to keep out the kittens and slid it on top of the fridge to merrily ferment away.

That was my third mistake.

Each morning, I would check the fish mixture and slide it back into place before leaving for work. And, each morning disappointed kittens would piteously mew at me for being denied their treat.

It was the third day coming home that proved to be my undoing. I had met my roommate in the building lobby and we had walked up the stairs together.

Opening the door, Frank wrinkled his noise and said “What is that ungodly smell?”

Entering the kitchen, I walked into a war zone. Black trails ran down the refrigerator onto the floor and the linoleum was covered in black mush. Dark liquid had pooled and dried on the floor and kitten prints tracked back and forth. The pot was upside down and the smell was just horrid.

“Does this belong to you?” asked Frank handing me an orange kitten dyed completely black from the knees down.

“Where is the other one?”

That is when I heard a forlorn yowling come from under the pot.  Somehow, in the adventure trying to get into the fish bucket, one of the kittens had become trapped under it. And he was dyed completely black from head to foot. Not one speck of orange remained.

It turns out that iodized salt reacts with aluminum and had created a semi-permanent black dye.   I had accidentally created fishy flavored black ink. No amount of washing could get him clean and he was black for a good six weeks until it wore off completely.

He never forgave me.

HOWEVER, I am nothing if not determined and a stinker.

I tried it again, and this time it turned out right and was delicious. That is the batch that I entered in the competition.

For display, I put the garum in a large glass bottle with a small spigot at the bottom. I wrapped the bottle in a nice green baize cloth with a little sign that said “When done judging, pull the ribbon.”

Little did I know that the Princess was one of my judges. So, the judges noted my score sheets and then they pulled the little ribbon and the green baize fell away.

And, the Princess screamed.

I had arranged the fishheads in the bottle and they were just a-staring out.

Oh, I won.

(And I promised to put this link here:


Spanish mackerel, 5 lbs.

Red wine, one gallon

Kosher flake salt, 1 lb.

Oregano, 2 ounces.

First, take the fish and clean it. While some people do not choose to do so, it prefer to remove the innards. Some people prefer to use sardines but I like Spanish mackerel.

Cut the fish into smallish pieces and lay a layer flat in a ceramic pickling vat. Cover with a thick layer of salt. Repeat until all of the fish is used.

Cover with wine and cover. Place in a warm dry spot. Stir daily until the fish dissolves.

Some like to serve as is but I prefer to strain it through rough muslin. Makes an excellent addition to soups or salads and makes a great marinade for meats.


COPYRIGHT 2016 Micheal J. Hobbs


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