Colatura di Alici a fish sauce from the Amalfi Coast

The more I learn about the Amalfi Coast, the more impressed I am.  We owe a debt of gratitude for such culinary wonders as limoncello, and of course this incredible anchovie fish sauce, colatura di Alici.

The sauce is simple to make:

  1. select fresh anchovies
  2. clean and pack in a wooden barrel
  3. add weight on top of said anchovies
  4. heavily salt the lot
  5. forget about it for 4 to 6 months

photo from Market Hall

photo from Market Hall

When they’re done brining, alchemy has occurred, liquid gold resides in those barrels, and the final step is to carefully drill a hole in the barrel and extract that golden magic drain into a waiting receptacle.  The results of a little pressure and time on some fish and salt is truly magical as the video shows.

This is quintessential artisanal food at its finest. In Naples, families make small batches of colatura for Christmas gifts for family and friends.

Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Raisins and Colatura

(recipe from the always wonderful Market Hall in Berkeley)

Serves 4

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ c raisins
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 1 T colatura
  • 8 oz orecchiette

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the cauliflower with 2T of extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and½ teaspoon of pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes until nicely caramelized. In the last 3-4 minutes, add the raisins and pine nuts and continue roasting. (Do not burn the pine nuts!)

Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette in salted, boiling water. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Return the hot pasta to the pot and stir in the pasta water, colatura, 2 tablespoons of fresh extra virgin olive oil and the roasted cauliflower mix. Serve immediately.

Amalfi Coast

map from

map from

The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana in Italian, stretches from the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy (Province of Salerno), extending from Positano in the west to Vietri sul Mare in the east. The towns found on the Amalfi Coast are Vietri sul Mare, Cetara, Maiori, Minori, Ravello, Scala, Atrani, Amalfi, Conca dei Marini, Furore, Praiano and Positano.

Famous for its scenic beauty and picturesque towns, the Amalfi Coast is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The towns of the Amalfi Coast:

Vietri sul Mare is a small town in the Campania region of Southern Italy and considered a good starting point for the Amalfi Coast drive.  The town was first built by the Etruruans.  The town is known for its ceramics, having been making them since the fifteenth century.

Cetera (photo from

Cetera (photo from

Cetara has a strong fishing tradition and is famous for its tinned anchovy and tuna.  They are also known for their garum which is served with pasta.  Garum being a fish sauce that was considered an essential condiment in ancient roman cooking.

Maiori is famous for the longest, unbroken stretch of beach along the coast.  The churches in this town are worth more than a passing glance.   At one point, during the Republic of Amalfi it was considered an important harbor that suffered from attacks.

Minori is a site of a first century Roman villa.  It is known for its paper and pasta.  The name of this town is linked to its neighbor Maiori:  Rhegginia Minor and Rheggina Maior.  The church of Santa Trofimena and the ancient Roman villa are considered requisite viewing.

Ravello (photo from

Ravello (photo from

Ravello is famous for its beauty it is a destination for artists, musicians and writers.  The tourist guides like to tell the story that this town is the place where Satan transported Jesus to show him the world’s beauty.  (Luke 4: 5-8) Places to check out include the Duomo (Cathedral) of Ravello: the central nave contains the “Pulpit of the Gospels”, created in 1272 by Nicolò di Bartolomeo, and the Villa Cimbrone and Billa Rufolo.

Atrani (photo from

Atrani (photo from

Atrani is famous for its churches:  San Salvatore del Birecto and of Santa Maria Maddalena.  The town was founded by wealthy Romans and became the home of the most powerful families in the region.

Amalfi is the main town on the coast that bears its name.  Almalfi is built up the sides of the coast and is a series of seemingly endless alleys and steps. Must visit spots include: Duomo (the cathedral) in Amalfi, and its cloister (Chiostro del Paradiso in Italian) Conca dei Marini.  Second only to kitchen accessories shops, I love stationary and paper shops. Knowing that paper making is such a tradition requires extra space in my luggage.  The following information comes straight from wiki:

Amalfi is also a known maker of a hand-made thick paper which is called bambagina. It is exported, and used throughout Italy for wedding invitations, visiting cards and elegant writing paper. The paper has a high quality and has been used by artists such as Giuseppe Leone, who described it: “There is a whole world that the Amalfi paper evokes and an artist who is sensitive to the suggestion of these places is aware that it is unique and exciting”….The city is home to the Museo della Carta, a paper-making museum.

Furore (photo from

Furore (photo from

Furore was a town built by the Romans and thanks to nature, the coastline provided a natural protection for the pirates that ravished the region.  This town is actually two villages, connected by a long staircase, one by the sea and the second, nestled in the mountains.  The Fiordo is the place to check out here.

Praiano is a small town, again famous for its churches, San Luca and San Gennaro in their views.  Also a must to check out is the Grotto Esmerelda or Green Grotto, which has a green light that reflects inside the grotto pool.

Positano was a town built by Romans and ideally located to take advantage of the Mediterranean trade.  The church of Santa Maria Assunta is a good place to start exploring.

So what are you waiting for, maybe a trip to the Amalfi is not in your plans, but a dish of pasta and colatura is a rather nice substitute.

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25 comments for “Colatura di Alici a fish sauce from the Amalfi Coast

  1. May 22, 2009 at 3:19 PM

    Ooh how does it compare to Asian fish sauce? We had no idea the Italians used it too!

  2. oysterculture
    May 22, 2009 at 3:31 PM

    Duo – Stay tuned, I have a fish sauce summary, I’m working on, but in the effort to not make it a monster post, I let one slip early! 🙂

  3. May 22, 2009 at 4:05 PM

    I’m adding this to the list of place I want to visit. Just those pictures alone take my breath away.

  4. May 22, 2009 at 5:31 PM

    Interesting! I wasn’t familiar with fish sauce from the Amalfi coast, but I’d love to try it.

  5. May 22, 2009 at 8:13 PM

    I’ve never heard of colatura and would be very curious to try it. I have tried a combo with cauliflower and raisins and I know that’s delicious – the pasta sounds very very good!

  6. May 22, 2009 at 6:27 PM

    this place is the founder of pizza? I love it already.
    and colatura sounds fascinating! it’s like an Italian version of thai fish sauce!

  7. tokyoterrace
    May 22, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    What a fabulous blog! I love this post especially- Brad and I spent some time in Positano when we were in Italy a couple of years ago and the food was unforgettable. Absolutely incredible. And the limoncello…yum. Would you mind if I added your blog to my blogroll? I’m working on putting together the list so I can post it on my site very soon and I would love to include yours!

  8. oysterculture
    May 22, 2009 at 7:25 PM

    Hi Rachael, thanks for the compliments, and please feel free to post.

    Burpexcuzmen – what’s not to love this place is special!

    5Star – I think your beloved Wegman’s might have the colatura – or you might be able to orders some. I miss Wegman’s it was my favorite, and I used to shop at the one in Fairfax – makes me wonder if our carts ever crossed paths?

    Lisa – I’m guessing Whole Foods might have some.

    Bread + Butter – you must, I bet with your special view of the world as a film maker, you have lots of inspired ideas!

  9. May 22, 2009 at 8:46 PM

    And yet you forgot the island of Capri–just a boat ride away, where the food is also a big highlight, especially the pizza, and is also where the Caprese Salad came from.

    This does look interesting; I”ll have to ask my Italian stepmom about it–she has an old Sicilian recipe for pasta with cauliflower and anchovies.


  10. May 22, 2009 at 9:50 PM

    Yay! This looks like it will work (I’ll know for sure when I click on ‘Submit Comment’).

    I look forward to your fish sauce summary; I’m familiar with the Thai, Vietnamese and Filipino (natch) versions but had no idea that it was also made in Italy! Nothing can beat the super-salty, pungent flavor of nam pla/nuoc mam/patis and now colatura.

  11. May 23, 2009 at 2:18 AM

    MMMMM…thanks for that lovely information of the Almalfi coast!
    That dish looks wonderful!
    I am making my own limoncello now,…just wait a month or two for the result!

  12. May 23, 2009 at 1:30 PM

    Another fascinating, educational post! You’ve thoroughly convinced me that Italy is the most beautiful country I’ve never visited, and I really need to do something soon to change this. Until I have that good fortune, I’m more than content to keep reading your posts. 🙂 The Amalfi Coast looks absolutely stunning.

    I’m super curious about the fish sauce you described, too, as I often cook with Vietnamese fish sauce. I’m sure it’s quite different both in taste and usage, however.

  13. oysterculture
    May 23, 2009 at 6:36 PM

    Sapuche, you definitely need to add Italy on to what sounds like an ever growing list. I know my list only expands. The fish sauce is different, and I’ll try to touch on these differences in my upcoming post.

    Sophie, I love limoncello and know how hard it is to wait. Sounds like it is perfect timing as it will be ready for the summer months.

    TN, hurray – nice to have you comment on my posts. I’m well into my fish sauce research =)

    Romney – you know you’re right, I never think of Capri as part of the Amalfi Coast always separate, and special for the fact that it is not connected to the mainland – but distance is a relative thing. I’ll need to write something up on this island and give it the credit it deserves! I’d be curious to hear of any recipes your stepmom might share.

  14. May 25, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    Is it me or have our bio pics turned into fun and strange looking foodies? Ha, I love it! Fun…

    I am jealous that you and Daily Spud had lunch, I am off a post, but I have to say that I too enjoy ceviche from all cultures, and especially Peruvian!

    The fish sauce is intriguging, but I have no wooden barrels lying around, but plenty of corn husk for more tamales! I will have to look for that fish sauce, as I love cooking with new and interesting things. I am sure if I continue to tell you that I love your blog, you will not get bored with hearing it :), but I do…

  15. oysterculture
    May 25, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    Chef E – I was just changing things up to see if you were paying attention 😉 and I never get tired of hearing you say how much you enjoy my blog. I’m intrigued about making the sauce as well, but understand its a rather stinky process, so not one I will attempt while living in an apartment.

    Erica – My pleasure, glad you liked it, I learned a lot from your blog as well.

    Lisa – I have never met you in person, but judging by the fantastic food you produce and show on your blog, La Mar is your kinda place!

  16. May 26, 2009 at 6:01 PM

    This stuff is magic! I have used in and am amazed of it’s powers. Just a few cap fulls with pecorino and black pepper and you have an amazing pasta dish! GREG

  17. May 26, 2009 at 6:33 PM

    That’s kind of like how fish sauce is made in Thailand. In grade school science class, we made a sauce like this out of little tiny shrimp. Once the liquid was extracted, I think we boiled it with aromatics and flavor enhancers like onion skins, crushed sugar cane, etc. It was kind of fun.

    Look forward to your future post on fish sauce.

  18. oysterculture
    May 27, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    Leela, sounds like a wonderful time making the fish sauce. I kept seeing reports on the odor involved, so for now, i think I’ll leave it to the experts.

    Greg – it is magic – liquid gold. To your point, with less than a handful of ingredients you had the perfect pasta dish. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Louis
    May 28, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    I have been using Garum Colatura di alici di Cetara made by Delfino for several years. I buy it from an online importer in New York. I ran out yesterday and have guest coming for dinner on Saturday. I’m trying to find a temporary substitute. Has anyone compared it to Thai Fish Sauce?

  20. June 6, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    Looking forward to the fish sauce summary, nothin’ wrong with a monster post!

    I’m so intrigued by the colatura di Alici, I love fish sauce and everything to do with anchovies, so I’m sure I’ll love it. Will have to look for it in Italian markets, only seeing it online for $25+ per bottle, but I’m sure it’s worth it.

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