I have tried the garum!
I picked the easiest recipe I could find, which in this case was Soft-Boiled Eggs in Pine-Nut sauce, and gave it a go. Please forgive the rather uninspiring photo—I’m never going to have a career as a food photographer, that’s for sure.
The recipe I used was from here: https://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/233472.html
Soft-Boiled Eggs in Pine-Nut Sauce
200g pine nuts 2 teaspoons ground pepper 1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons garum
Soak the pine nuts overnight in water. Then drain and grind them finely in the blender or pound them in a large mortar. Add the pepper, honey and garum. Heat the sauce in a bain-marie. Meanwhile put the eggs into a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Let them cook for 3½ minutes, then take them off the heat, plunge them into cold water and peel them carefully. The outer edge of the egg white must be firm, but it must be soft inside. Put the eggs, left whole, into a deep serving bowl and pour over the sauce. Serve.
This recipe can be adapted easily to other eggs, such as quails’ eggs. In that case keep an eye on the cooking-time: a quail’s egg will be firm in 1 minute.
I love this assumption that I’m the sort of person who would have the first idea of how to source quails’ eggs. But apart from that, you can see what I picked it, right? It’s super simple! The first thing I did was halve the recipe, because I can't eat four eggs at once, not even for research purposes.
I’m going to be honest—I didn’t use a blender. I have a blender, but it’s right at the back of my cupboard, and who can be bothered move a bunch of stuff to get it out? So I just squished everything (not entirely successfully) with a mortar and pestle and told myself that I was being historically authentic.
And the end result was... okay. It had a very definite fishy undertone, but the fish flavour wasn’t as overpowering as I thought it would be, given the thing is basically just fish. The best way I can describe the taste was umami. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it, so I’m taking that as a win! I think that garum is very much an acquired taste, and I haven’t acquired it yet. I’m going to try the recipe again, and this time use about half as much garum, and train my tastebuds. It’s an interesting enough flavour that I want to persevere!
I felt a little bit how I imagine foreigners do when they watch us Australians dig into Vegemite. You guys actually eat that? We do, and it’s delicious! So in that spirit, and in the possibly mistaken belief that an entire empire couldn’t be wrong, I’m going to keep experimenting with garum recipes until I get the hang of it!