10.1.8 Another Alexandrian sauce for grilled fish

pepper, lovage, green coriander, onion, stoned damsons, passum, liquamen, defrutum and cook it.


We saw the fishmonger the other day. He had some really gorgeous looking sardines in. I found them irresistable, which was a little bit of a logistical problem. We canceled the rest of the day’s plans so I could get them home and prepared as soon as possible. They were that fresh.

Happily, all of the ingredients were easily available, which was a surprise this late in the season.

A couple of months ago we went to the wine making supply shop and bought almost 70 lbs of grape juice, fresh pressed to order. We made a gallon and a half of defrutum, and the rest into sapa.

I used this and some bortyrised wine trying to pass itself off as a tokaj as the passum.

There was a nice second round of lovage in the garden, and plums were still available at the fruit stand. Not damsons, but plums nonetheless, and they worked out acceptably well..

All of the solid ingredients were chopped and simmered.. A lid would have been helpful, but it was forgotten. Some of the water evaporated, leaving a denser, more caramelised sauce.

I did use a potato masher as the solids softened, and considering the intended audience, I strained the sauce well before plating.

Other recipes for grilling fish (Scappi, not entirely relevant) mentioned leaving the scales on the fish, and gutting them as cleanly as possible.

The scales insulated the very delicate meat, and allowed the skin to come off very cleanly. That was a factor in protecting the delicate flesh, as well as in being more easily able to present the fish at table.

Serve with lots of napkins, and plan to do laundry.


sardines (6)

3-4 sardines per person,

4 large plums or 8 smaller ones,

4 oz whole cilantro plant, preferably including roots

5  oz reduced grape juice

3 oz fish sauce

a baseball sized onion (I had a leek)

2 -3 oz fresh lovage, or the leaves from one bunch of celery


Coarsely chop all of the fruits and vegetables. Place in a pot with the liquid ingredients, and simmer until fully cooked.

sardines (7)

Grill, roast, pan fry, or otherwise prepare the fish as you are most comfortable doing.

The prescribed method calls for carefully placing the fish on skewers and grilling by charcoal, which is an excellent and delicious method.

Mash the sauce well, in order to release juices from the fruit. Strain and place on the plate, or in a separate dipping bowl.

sardines (11)

Serve hot.



I took without using any sauce a tuna fish, an exceedingly fine specimen, poured plenty of olive oil over it, wrapped it like a baby in fig leaves, sprinkled it with marjoram and buried it like a firebrand in hot ashes”
Attributed to Athenaeus, the Partying Professors

(part of an ongoing series in which I share recipes presented at The Lay of El Cid hosted by Barony Bhakail)

Though this instruction asked for a whole, beautiful Mediterranean tuna cooked whole, I was not in a position to do so. I was not serving the fish as a centerpiece to an intimate dinner party which reveres fish, but a tasting menu to a group as a side to other activities. In light of budget and anticipation of a small group of people who would appreciate the dish, I wanted to use a delicate morsel which would carry the flavors well. I opted for boquerones, a small white herring already skinned and boned, and packed in olive oil. They were very easy to work with and held flavors well.

16 oz fresh or frozen (not thawed)
tuna, mackerel, herring, or other available rich fish cut into one ounce or four ounce portions, depending on your needs.
Vine leaves, jarred.
4 oz olive oil
¼ tsp marjoram, dried

Remove some vine leaves from the jar, place in a bowl of water while trimming fish. Discard rinsing water after use.
Cut fish into desired portions, skinless and boneless.
Toss in bowl with olive oil, marjoram, and salt.
Wrap completely in vine leaves, much like an envelope.
Place on parchment lined baking sheets
Store in cold space until ready to go..
Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes for raw fish, checking often as ovens are fickle.

If you are using a prepared fish such as bouquerones, you might blister them, with a torch instead, as they need only to have some char for flavor.
Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an appetiser.







Grant, Mark. Roman Cookery. London: Serif Cookery, 1999. 130. Print.

Fish! It’s season. The rivers are stocked, and the windows can be opened to air out the house. Yay!

The recipe calls for pike or pickerel.
Pike is a river or lake fish also found in some slightly salty situations, but it doesn’t tolerate brackish water well.
It is long and skinny, and can, depending on conditions, have the “muddy” flavor associated with catfish and tilapia.
They grow a couple of feet long, and have two extra lines of bones.

I could not get a pike; though the rivers are stocked, they are a challenge here. I chose whiting instead, as being a suitable mild white fish. Shad would have been another good choice, but the fisheries in my area are depleted of them.

a loaf of wine, a bottle of wine, a bottle of verjus, seasonings, and in a bowl, three little fish.

a short shopping list

One was split and boned, the other two cooked on the bone, for comparison.
I roasted them in salt, as a later recipe made a special note of not salting a fish in a manner suggesting that not to do so was unusual.

three fish on a roasting tray; one boned and split, two cleaned but otherwise intact.

I prefer bone on, but often test sauces on fish cooked a few ways.

For the sauce, I grated stale bread, and added the crumbs, ginger powder, and saffron to the pot of water, and added a little salt.

breadcrumbs, saffron, and seasonings in a pan.

The instructions admonish to sift the crumbs well, in order to have a fine sauce.

Once the pot began to simmer, I added wine and verjus, though I was concerned that the wine would change the color. It really wasn’t an issue.

a small pot with a dark amber sauce, held at an angle to show breadcrumbs settling to the bottom.

It takes a little work to get the crumbs to homogenise well with the sauce, but with attention, it does coalesce.

After roasting, I peeled the fish off of the bones and out of the skins, and placed it in a bowl. There was not an elegant way to do this for such little guys.

On tasting, we agreed that more ginger elevated the sauce and balanced it, but the addition of vinegar unbalanced the sauce somewhat. Readjusting the ginger solved the problem.

The strong saffron and ginger flavor provided a lot of depth and interest to what is often a flavorless fish, and would have enhanced the richness of a pike nicely. It is an attractive color, and is of itself vegetarian, so would be useful as a hot dressing for pressed tofu, or for steamed chicken.

Unfortunately, the sauce does not hold long or well, it begins to set quite quickly. As it comes together easily, it would not be hard to pre-measure dry ingredients for preparation at need, but with the balance of flavors and the tricky nature of the breadcrumb thickening, it might be more of a challenge than wise for a large scale service. If I were to serve it to larger groups, I would use a wide, shallow pan, and have one person doing only that sauce at time of need.

2 cups water
1/2t saffron
1 t powdered ginger
1/2 c fine breadcrumbs. (Italian loaf, staled overnight, grated or whizzed, and sifted)
River-fish fillets, grilled or roasted with nothing but salt.

-needs careful balancing
-sauce can stick and burn in an instant
-uses a fair lot of saffron.
-hidden gluten, need to warn loudly.

– fiddly

– short holding time.
+reasonably common ingredients
+can be adapted to alternate dining needs quickly
+attractive and somewhat unusual color.