Best Antiquity

Bristol/Balena chef Chris Pandel's fish sauce

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Garum was an ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine condiment made from fermented fish guts. Sounds gross, but it was the culinary equivalent of turning lead into gold. The depth of flavor it and its modern cousins nam pla or nuoc mam lend to almost everything they touch is something southeast Asian cooks—and increasingly Western ones—understand well. So it's not such a stretch that Chris Pandel would make his own, experimenting with a variety of fish bones and scraps—variously sardine, smelt, anchovy, and whitebait—and aging them in salt until they weep their magic liquor. "The best was a sun-baked version in a glass jar that really had a nice balance of flavor without being too salty," he says. He first used it at the Bristol to accent a brussels sprout salad with fried carrots and aniseed, and then later on the Korean-style short rib he serves at Balena. Since he found it difficult to make consistent batches, he's not using it in the restaurants, but that doesn't mean it won't come back. He's working out the kinks with a batch aging at home.


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