Originally born as a by-product of garum, soon allec (spelled also allex) transiit in luxuriam, Pliny writes in the 1st century: it became a luxury. To understand exactly what allec is, we need to know the process to produce garum. A few authors describe the method: partially Pliny, Gargilius Martialis, Manilius (though in a poetic form), but the most important source is the Geoponica, a Byzantine book composed in the 10th century which collects texts of older agricultural authors. There is also a text called Confectio Gari (the preparation of garum) attributed to Rufius which describes a fish sauce whose recipe is reported also by the author of the Geoponica, but not fermented: probably, a garum surrogate.
In the Geoponica we find a basic recipe, with other more complex: take little fishes with fish guts, cover well with salt, and ferment in the sun for two or three months. From this fermentation process, a liquid part separates from the dregs. The liquid part, strained, is called garum or liquamen; the residue, allec. Pliny adds that allec began to be produced independently from garum, with various kinds of seafood: oysters, sea urchin, sea nettle, red mullet liver, and others.
Though there are a few producers of garum today, we do not know anyone who still makes allec. However, in the Philippines, there is a traditional condiment made with fish called Bagoong that is produced in the same way as allec. You can use it to substitute allec. The outcome would be a little different but still delicious also using garum, but in any case, you can always opt for a couple of pinches of salt. The habit to add a salted anchovy to a meat dish continued for two millennia: we find it in many 19th century cookbooks and it is still traditional in Italian cuisine to give more complexity to the plates.
In the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius, from which we selected this recipe, there are a few recipes with allec, overshadowed by the more famous garum, but we know from other authors, for example Horace and Martial, that it was widely used and appreciated.
In the article, you will find the original recipe with our translation into English, a note about the ingredients, and the video of the recipe, with captions in English and Italian. Enjoy!
1 kg veal
spices (long pepper, caraway, celery seeds, lovage)
fresh herbs (thyme, young celery tops)
Simmer the meat in water for a couple of hours, without adding salt.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Grind in the mortar long pepper, caraway, celery seeds, and lovage. Mince the onion and one date, then remove the thyme leaves from the twig. For this quantity of sauce, we used a little date and one-third onion. Pound all the ingredients together in the mortar to obtain a homogeneous paste, then add a bit of honey, one tablespoon of allec, and white wine, mixing well.
Mince the young celery tops.
Once the meat is cooked, discard the water and plate, sprinkling with the minced celery and pouring olive oil.
Note about the recipe and the ingredients
Young celery tops were used by Romans in the same way as parsley or cilantro. The celery you find in the grocery stores is usually a little old, but you can use it anyway for this recipe.
Mediterranean spices and aromatic herbs (such as thyme, celery seeds, caraway, and lovage) were an essential characteristic of ancient Roman cuisine, but also pepper, imported from India, appears in most of the recipes. We chose long pepper, the most prized variety, but Pliny reports that Romans had at disposal also black and white pepper.
The author does not specify what kind of meat to use, but we suggest choosing a tender and delicate one, for example veal or chicken, to enhance the complexity of flavors of the sauce.
Simmering meat in water is one of the most common cooking methods we find in this cookbook.
For a better outcome of this recipe, we suggest paying attention to balance well the ingredients. Do not exceed with honey and allec, because the sauce is not meant to be salty or sweet. Pepper and lovage, mixed together, become quite spicy: use a moderate quantity.
Ius in elixam allecatum: piper, ligusticum, careum, apii semen, thymum, cepulam, dactylum, allecem colatum; melle et vino temperas; apium viridem concisum super aspargis, oleum mittis et inferes.
Sauce allecatum for simmered meat: pepper, lovage, caraway, celery seeds, thyme, onion, date, filtered allec; dilute with honey and wine; sprinkle with minced green celery, pour oil, and serve.
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