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Smoked Fish & Rose Garum – How To Make Garum With Koji!


Smoked Seabass & Tiki Farm Roses For Garum

What is Garum & Why Use Koji?


In this recipe, we merge three of our favorite things: Koji, Garum & fermented fish sauce.


Koji is cooked rice that has been inoculated with Aspergillus Oryzae spores and held at optimal temperature and humidity in a fermentation chamber for the spores to grow. You can also purchase pre-prepared Koji on line, which is an easier starting point when starting to delve into Koji fermentation & garum making. Koji is the starting point in making miso, soy sauce and sake. It is also used for what we call amino-ferments. Koji is a miracle spore – dominating its environment, and out competing bad fungus and bacteria to keep your ferments safe. It also adds layers of umami, flavor, and allows food to be caramelized easier when cooked (ie: flavor explosion!) Another benefit of using Koji is your fermenting garum will not be stinky while fermenting on your shelf. (ie: family won't make you throw it out.)


Garum is an ancient fermented sauce developed by ancient Greeks and Romans - with a variation also called liquamen. Similar fermentation techniques can also be found in Asian fish sauces. Later, the same concepts of ancient garum became the basis for more modern Worcestershire sauce. In the ancient Roman fish sauce, fish or meat was salted and fermented in the sun, and then aged in clay pots called dolia. We find that a ratio of three parts fish to one part salt is a good base-line when aging fish. Of course, there are safety concerns when aging fish in the open sun, so for our garums, we use Koji as the promoter to facilitate fermentation in a safe environment. Plus, Koji adds additional flavor which only deepens the complexity of the end result. At our restaurant, Suis Generis and our fermentation lab - the Tiki Food Lab, the goal of every dish in our weekly changing menu is to layer flavors, textures, and smells to heighten intrigue in the dish. So, using beautiful funky umami-rich garums is one way to achieve that end.


Recipe For Smoked Fish & Rose Garum - Fermented Fish For All!


When thinking about building a new recipe or ferment, we like to consider elements that will add intrigue. Flowers and smoke are fabulous facilitators of flavor – smoke plays both favorably on the nose, and upon our innate connection to fire. While rose petals add a floral bouquet – also playing on the nose, and making the fishiness more appealing to the average person (as opposed to the chef or food enthusiast who loves funk and strong umami flavors). Other variations we love include: smoked mushroom garum, shrimp garum, beef garum, grasshopper, bee pollen, rose and shrimp garum (which is the fameous Noma projects recipe found in the Noma Guide to Fermentation, which we highly recomend) and chicken wing garum, which can all be made with the same ratios as stated below. OK - lets take this ancient fish sauce and add some modern technique to make the best condimunt you can imagine!


Here is the base recipe – but feel free to experiment with variations and add other spices & seasoning:


  • 3 parts smoked fish – roughly chopped. Really, any fish works for this recipe, but we find that oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, seabass & tilefish work great. We have a pellet smoker at our farm, called the Tiki Farm, which we really like because it keeps a constant temperature with little effort. Thus, we can smoke our fish while tending the garden! We have a Camp Chef Woodwind Pro, which has a wood chip tray which allows us to add hardwood chips to get a stronger smoke flavor than most pellet smokers. When smoking fish, we first brine the filets in a solution of one tablespoon salt, one teaspoon sugar, and spices such as cloves, star anise, ginger, pepper, coriander, etc. After about an hour in the brine, we dust with additional spices and then into the smoker at 250 degrees for multiple hours, depending upon the size and thickness of the filets. The goal is for the fish to get to a point where they are very smoky flavored and firm – but not to the point that they are like jerky. We also baste the fish regularly with a mixture of emulsified spices, oil and acid rich juice (like orange, lime, guava or grapefruit). while soursop is not very acid rich, we love the tropical balanced sweet flavor.


Chopped Smoked Fish & Rose Petals For Garum


  • 1 part Koji – broken up. You can use dried pre-packaged Koji, or grow your own for a complete from-scratch batch of garum. We will upload a blog entry on how to make Koji at some point.


  • .5 part Rose Petals. Be careful when sourcing roses. Ideally, you want to grow them or get them from someone who you know does not use pesticides. The ones in a florist or grocery store were almost certainly doused with pesticides. If that is your only option, we recommend that you remove the petals, rinse well and then soak in a light chilled salt bath for an hour to purge any lingering pesticides that are not only bad for you, but that will inhibit fermentation.


  • 1 part spring water. A rule of thumb is to always use the best ingredients possible. The height of the flavors you seek will be limited by the weakest ingredient. Use an excellent quality spring water, and never use tap water, which likely contains fluoride, chlorine, led, arsenic and other chemicals that are bad for you and your ferment. We also like to experiment with using other liquids such as kombucha or wine as our "water" content.


Adding Koji To Rose & Smoked Fish - Here Using Purchased Dry Koji For Simplicity

  • 8-12% salt. Weigh all of the ingredients above and calculate your amount of salt. The amount of salt used depends upon your ambient room temperature, length of intended ferment time, and the result you seek. When you use more salt, you reduce the likelihood of the ferment going wrong, but you also negatively impact the final flavor as the salt can overpower the subtleties. Since we are using Koji to protect the ferment, you can stay on the lower end of the salt ratio and be fine. You can use less than 8% salt if you are comfortable with monitoring your ferments, but we are keeping it conservative for purposes of this recipe.


  • Clean jar with raft. You don’t need to sterilize your container, but feel free to do so if it makes you comfortable. Again, the Koji is your fermentation bodyguard that will fight off bad bacteria. When filling the jar, make sure to pack it tight and eliminate air pockets by pressing it in. At this point, you may be wondering: what the hell is a raft? A raft is an air barrier pressed to the surface to block oxygen from interacting with the ferment. The surface of your ferment is the spot where mold or bad bacteria may form. Thus, to help inhibit that, we typically sprinkle a little extra salt on the surface, and cut a piece of saran wrap that we press to the surface and up against the sides of the jar to “seal” the surface - which is your "raft." It won’t be sealed tight, but it will limit oxygen exchange. You likely will have some white fur develop on the surface over time, but that is almost certainly just some koji mold growing on the surface. Before mixing, just scrape that off then mix well. Trust your nose. Koji smells beautiful and almost fruity. Your ferment should not smell bad – even though you are using fish. So, if it doesn’t smell right, trust your senses. We have literally done hundreds of these ferments and have only had to toss one or two over time. Remember, it’s always better to be safe when fermenting – you definitely do not want to risk eating something that is off. However, this recipe provides a good framework for success.


Two Smoked Fish Garum Variatins - One With Mango Added For Flavor Variation!

  • Maintenance. Place your jar in a place out of direct sunlight at ambient room temperature. Check it every week-or-so to see what is going on. We like to use clear glass jars so we can see what is happening inside. Stirring is also important. While you want to keep oxygen off the surface, you do want to stir every few weeks at first (and about every month after a few months) to oxygenate the ferment to prevent the formation of alcohols which will make it taste sour. Of course, sometimes that is the goal. You can take your ferment in many different directions including acidification if that is your goal. However, here, we are making Garum, so you want to fucus on the deeper rich umami flavors as opposed to the brighter shiny flavors produced by alcohol or vinegar.

Feel free to taste your ferment at all stages. You can use it whenever you want, but monitor to see how the flavor changes over time. We find it helpful to keep a journal of the progress for future reference. In several months you should see a serious change with deepening character building in the 3-6 month time-frame. Once you get into the 10-12+ months, you will find it starts to mellow and refine even further.

When you decide to remove your garum from ferment, you can either put the whole thing in a Vitamix and use the resulting paste, or you can add a bit of liquid such as wine, citrus juice, vinegar or alcohol, puree and drip through a coffee filter or fine mesh strainer to pull out the Worcestershire like sauce. If you strain it – then keep the pulp to use in soups, sauces and other recipes. As we strive to be the first zero waste restaurant in the Gulf South, at Suis Generis, we find uses for every aspect of each ingredient!

Also, feel free to add spices or other flavors to the Vitamix when blending to achieve unique flavors. The world is your fermented oyster with the only limitation being your creativity!!!


Resources and additional reading:





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