Oenogarum: an Ancient Roman Sauce


A classic oenogarum recipe is found in Apicius Book 4.5.1 where a patina, a kind of thick frittata of meat, fish, and vegetables is turned out on to a plate and this sauce poured over it.

‘make an oenogarum for it like this: pound pepper and lovage, pound again, pour on liquamen and wine.  Flavour with passum or with sweet wine.   Blend it in a little pan; put in a little oil and bring it to heat; when it is simmering thicken it with starch’ 

The thickening is a wheat starch, which can be replaced with arrowroot or cornflour.  The sauce is flavorful, so only a little is needed; in addition to the patina recommended in Apicius, the sauce may be an accompaniment to simple chicken. Grainger strongly recommends sourcing the Vietnamese Red Boat brand fish sauce, as it has a rounder, less aggressive flavor than many of the Thai brands.


1/4 cup Red boat fish sauce 

1/4 cup  red wine 

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon dessert wine – vin santo is ideal, if pricey, although a Greek samos or a marsala work nicely

2 tablespoons olive oil

Arrowroot dissolved in a bit of water, to thicken, as needed

Simply combine the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat to thicken the sauce into a thin emulsion. It makes a nice dipping sauce for poultry, shrimp, or a frittata.