Genie In A Bottle? Her Name Is Colatura.

by Matt on December 1, 2009


When you live, breathe, eat and sleep food, it can sometimes be hard to muster excitement. This doesn’t mean I’ve grown weary of food and all it involves, it just means that it takes a little extra or a tiny bit of sumthin’ sumthin’ to really knock my socks off. Not that they need constant knocking off. They don’t. I’m happy with plain most of the time.

The pleasures of food and discovery happen when you least expect it. I can remember a moment 20 years ago when I had my first Meyer lemon and I thought the earth would swallow itself. My mind was expanding with each taste of that glorious citrus and I knew life would never be the same. The same can be said of having Jamon Iberico de bellota, a proper supplì, even Wisconsin cheese curds for the very first time. I can count those moments on one hand.

Last month in Italy I had another one of those moments at dinner. It was a fish dish with a very simple aioli––or so I thought. It turns out that the aioli was made with Colatura, an extremely flavorful Italian condiment made from fish and salt. My eyes must have given my excitement away as our dinner neighbor Fabio looked at me and said “It’s Colatura. There’s Colatura in here.” He explained how it’s made, telling me fish sauce has been used for thousands of years in Italy.

“You mean like Garum?” I asked.

“Exactly” he replied.


I’ve read that Colatura is a relative of Garum, that pungent fish sauce made by fermenting fish in the bright Italian sun. But if Garum is the loud in-your-face uncle, Colatura is the mannered and finessed younger cousin. It’s made by taking anchovies and layering them with salt in wooden barrels. A weight is placed on top and as the fish lose their liquid it becomes mixed with salt and collected underneath, resulting in a light amber liquid that’s lighter in color and flavor than your standard fish sauce. It takes a few months to gather the essence but it’s worth the time and effort.

Now before you email me and call me an Asian fish sauce hater, please note that I’m a fan of all types of fish sauces. They make their way into my cooking and if you know me I put Nuoc Mam on anything and everything (flank steak and potatoes, watch out). But with Colatura, well, it’s magic. What else explains how fish and salt go in but Grand Umami Magic comes out? It truly is a magical genie in a bottle.

Regretfully I left Italy without picking up a bottle (I think I was drunk at the time). I kept kicking myself after I got home and realized nothing would work in its place. I wanted some and I wanted it badly. Luckily Zingerman’s came to the rescue, stocking bottles with a price that reminds you of how special it is just in case your tongue forgets. But you know what? It’s totally worth it. There’s nothing like it.

I used mine as Zingerman’s recommended and mixed it with a little olive oil, red chili flakes and parsley. Spaghetti cooked al dente was tossed with the fragrant golden mixture and I felt like I was back in Naples. There’s just enough fish essence to create intriguing flavor and add salt to the pasta,  similar to adding an anchovy to dressing or sauces.

I have vowed never to be without this stuff in my pantry. Obsessed? No way.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil & Colatura

Trust your cooking instincts on this recipe, folks. Cook your spaghetti as you like and toss with a sauce made of 3 tablespoons high quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon Colatura, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and red chile flakes. You can adjust the quantities based on your preferences but start light on the Colatura. A little goes a long way. I haven’t tried this on greens like spinach or chard yet but I can only imagine how delicious it is on vegetables.

Matt’s Notes: I haven’t seen it in many specialty or gourmet markets here but purchasing Colatura from Zingerman’s is a safe bet. Those folks are awesome.

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald December 1, 2009 at 5:45 am

I’m inspired!

I like the idea of adding that little

bit of something unique and unexpected

to a dish. Now, that hunt is on…I have to

find me a bottle of Colatura.

Fabio Fassone December 1, 2009 at 8:15 am

Guys, if you want to fly back here…next stop at Cetara, little village where few fishermen are still working with salt and anchoives for the “magic sauce”! Chanel 5…no no no, colatura please!!!

keiko December 1, 2009 at 9:58 am

Beautiful! I’ve picked up a bottle at Don Alfonso – haven’t tried it yet but this recipe would be perfect to taste its clean flavour. (I’m also looking forward to trying it in mashed potatoes like Ernesto suggested…) I think it’s more versatile than the Asian varieties.

Gaby December 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

that sounds like something that I just can’t live without! Sounds like it will be pretty fabulous on all kinds of food :)

Alex December 1, 2009 at 11:32 am

Oh wow, that looks/sounds good (don’t know if I could convince my pregnant wife to try it though!)

Does anyone have any favorite “simple” (similar to this) recipe suggestions/ideas to use with Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam)??

Stephanie - Wasabimon December 1, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I had no idea there was an Italian fish sauce, and I’m Italian. Doh.

A friend of mine tried to bring some of their uber-special favorite fish sauce back from Vietnam once, and it ended up getting broken in her suitcase in transit. It destroyed her $400 Kenneth Cole wool coat and a few other things. Her motto now is “never travel with fish sauce.” ;)

kitchenbeard December 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Sometimes the simplest things are really the best. A little fish sauce, a little oil, a little spice. Done.

Elle December 1, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Sounds like a little peice of heaven-now I must find that sauce locally!!!

Cheryl Arkison December 1, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I want. I need.
I’ve never heard of it before but you’ve fueled an intense curiosity now.

Caitlin December 1, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Ohhh – I love trying something new, and particularly something I have never heard of! I am going to check out Kalyustan’s tomorrow, hoping they have it…if not, online it is!

Stephanie December 1, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Mmm! That sounds delicious. I wonder if Bay Cities in Santa Monica would have Colatura.. I’ll have to check later this week.

Brooke @ Food Woolf December 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Thank GOD you decided to write and photograph this story. I never could have done the piece as well as you and those pictures…My heart just stopped. You really figured out a great way to make that little bottle of Colatura look seexxxxxxyyyyy. I hope Zingerman’s gets some epic run on Collatura now. That would really make my day. xoxxo

Lea @ Little Rock Wedding December 1, 2009 at 8:22 pm

I have to find that colatura and try…

Little Rock Wedding

Amy December 1, 2009 at 10:38 pm

One of my favorite purchases from the Amalfi coast was colatura. I also got a type of pesto with colatura from Delfino Battista with a couple of recipes as well. Let me know if you want them!

Katherine December 2, 2009 at 3:44 am

Yay for Zingerman’s! They’re walking distance for me– I’ll have to swing by and pick some up! (Not to brag, but we in Michigan have to take what we can get in the way of bragging rights, lately ;))

Paula December 2, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Wow I’ve never heard of that! I’ll have to get some. Sometimes a little bit of something extra special goes a long way.

Tarah December 2, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Just got back from italy. We spent a night in Cetara just for the pasta with colatura di alici! We bravely transported a bottle home, wrapped in about a million layers and it survived. When we picked up our luggage, it was obvious that someone else’s did not survive, the entire area reeked of fish sauce.

Winnie December 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Thank you for teaching me about something new in this lovely and inspired post. I love the idea of an Italian fish sauce, and now will just have to find me some!

small home plans December 2, 2009 at 11:56 pm

I remember my friend who always has this routine of adding a little bit of spice to every food that she cooks. And it was always a hit!

Margaret R. December 3, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Got a bottle last year at Stinky Brooklyn Cheese shop in lovely Brooklyn NY. Haven’t tried using it yet, even though I use asian fish sauce all the time.

Mrs. L December 3, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Only you could make a photo of something so simple as spaghetti look that amazing. Now I need to go buy the Colatura!

John December 4, 2009 at 5:46 am

Now I have a bottle, but i don’t know what to do with it besides Spagetti.

Any Suggestions.

John December 4, 2009 at 5:54 am
John December 4, 2009 at 6:01 am
kate December 4, 2009 at 11:37 am

how cool. i have to find this.

Miri December 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I love this, something so simple and yet so different. I’m heading for the Zingerman’s website now…

John Chen December 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Your plate of pasta looks delicious, it’s a big contrast to the plate of pasta I had today in Chinatown (, I’m jealous!

The Wandering Foodie December 6, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Never heard of this . . . Must add it to my repertoire.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks December 7, 2009 at 8:59 pm

This post has me longing for the pasta Acciugata (anchovy sauce) I devoured in Firenze almost ten years ago. I can certainly relate to certain dishes being a transformative experience. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

Kristen December 9, 2009 at 2:34 pm

It is no secret that I love your photography, but I have to say, I think that first photo on this post is my favorite. So warm, inviting and perfect in every way!

Damien December 9, 2009 at 2:34 pm

First of all, congrats for your gorgeous blog, Matt!

Second, thanks for making me discover this gem that is colatura di alici, which my (italian) girlfriend is going to bring me right after Xmas :) I’m drooling in anticipation…

Jessica December 11, 2009 at 2:55 am

What can I say Matt? There are some things you just don’t forget on your trip somewhere, and you hate yourself when you come home, you finally get over your emergency stock of it, and keep dreaming of more ***daydreams of perfect artisan goat cheese***

Joseph December 11, 2009 at 6:33 am

Inspired by this posting I got myself a bottle of Colature and prepared it just as Matt instructs, and is on the bottle. I added a little Parmigiano-Reggiano OMG it was wonderful. Even my boyfriend who claims to hate fish loved it.

cindy espinoza December 12, 2009 at 5:18 am

I use fish sauce all the time in asian cooking, Im very intrigued to have this dish. as always you make it look so delicious…

recipe December 12, 2009 at 8:18 am

what a great food… i love it

deana@lostpastremembered December 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

Great post… must get the Colatura! Garum/Liquamen has been in my sites for sometime. I remember reading about it when I got Apicius a few years ago. When I looked it up, I was most amused that it was the source of one of the 1st manufacturing blights… never live downwind of a garum producer! However, when the recipe said to use nuoc mam because there was no garum to be had, I felt deflated. Honestly, when you replace grains of paradise with pepper you really lose something. Finding colatura… I can dust of my Apicius and try a few recipes… correctly!

The Teacher Cooks December 13, 2009 at 7:18 pm

This sound delicious!

Mrs Ergül December 14, 2009 at 12:31 am

This pasta looks so simple but so good!

Indian Takeaway December 14, 2009 at 8:02 am

You get something similar in chinese cuisine only it has chillis in it.

Scott at Real Epicurean December 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Undeniably a fantastic dish; simplicity is always the key to great Italian dishes.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu December 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Hi Matt,

I’m going to the Food Blogger Camp, so thought I’d check out your site. I live on a farm in Japan, so am fairly out of touch with American food blogs. But I’m catching up. Love the content and photos.

I bought one slender, elegant bottle of Nettuno colatura at Slow Fish in 2004 at the recommendation of some cooks from the Netherlands. It was pricey. As an after thought, I decided to splurge for a few more, but they were already snapped up. I settled for another (lesser expensive) brand, but later wished I hadn’t. The Nettuno colatura was pure ambrosia and worthy of my husband’s homemade pasta from homegrown wheat, chopped local garlic, organic Italian olive oil, parsley from the garden and home dried chile peppers…freshly grated parmesano reggiano. Life can’t get any better. When we moved on to the second label, the whole thing didn’t sparkle as before. Sure, it was good. But it wasn’t great.

Thanks for reminding me, I have two bottles of Nettuno colatura in the pantry, picked up at the Salone del Gusto in 2008. I forgot to use it when we had fresh parsley and garlic. When the stars align in early June, I’ll be ready.

I googled Nettuno colatura and they sell it at Amazon for $29.50. I love Zingerman’s as much as you, but I’d recommend the Nettuno via Amazon. See you in Mexico,


diane and todd January 3, 2010 at 12:47 am

ohmygosh. It’s like finding a long lost Italian cousin. Thanks for the great intro, we’re getting ourselves a bottle!

Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro January 3, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I’m Vietnamese. The househusband is Italian… it’s about time I gifted the man with his very own fish sauce. To echo diane and todd, we’ll be getting a bottle…


Rosie DeQuattro February 1, 2010 at 11:58 am

Thanks for reminding me–I have a bottle of the stuff in my pantry right now. I got it on– pricey but worth it. I was in Cetara about a year ago and watched it being made! The workers sit at tables and sort through thousands and thousands of little anchovies. It’s no wonder it’s so expensive.

Laura February 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

Matt, I feel like a total idiot as I have never heard of colatura before, and I am Italian. When I read the name I thought you had made a mistake but when you explained how it is made, the name makes sense as it means dripping, from the verb colare or to drip.

I will ask my dad, who knows everything there is to know about food, not to mention that he is an amazing cook.

Love you site, and I will try the blood orange caramels today.

Charles June 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

thank you so much for pointing to this product. I just received mine and am looking forward to heaven on a plate with it. Love your work – your and your camera make your food and props sing!

Alex Taylor January 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm

My sister just brought me a bottle from Italy.

I love it on greens and pasta so far.

Michael B February 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

My wife teaches Thai cooking and someone gave us a bottle of (very expensive) colatura to try. I didn’t notice very much difference between the colatura and a $1.39 (at the time) bottle of Golden Boy Fish Sauce.

Sophia @ NY Foodgasm July 18, 2013 at 10:01 am

Is this similar to Thai Fish Sauce? I have some at home I used to make a homemade Red Curry Paste.

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