I’ve Got an Offer You Can’t Refuse: Swordfish al Salmoriglio – Adventures in Sicily

Monahan's Seafood Market | Fresh Whole Fish, Fillets, Shellfish, Recipes, Catering & Lunch Counter-Ann Arbor, Michigan

Sorry about the absence of the fish report the last couple weeks, I was on a family vacation in Sicily enjoying the amazing array of fresh fish and shellfish along with all the wonderful spring fruits and vegetables. We visited the famous La Pescheria market in Catania, one of the oldest operating markets in Europe. It’s been around since Catania was a Greek colony in 700 B.C. It took us a while to find it, asking directions was tough since very little English is spoken, we had no working Internet and our rented GPS was all whacked out. With a little sign language and bit of luck, we found our way through the ancient streets to the market.

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Suddenly we were in the center of a maze of incredible displays of the most amazing variety of seafood imaginable! Giant tuna, whole swordfish with their bills pointing to the sky, gorgeous fresh squid and cuttlefish, live abalone, snails, mussels, oysters, urchins and clams, whole toothy monkfish, sea bass, porgy and lots of beautiful small fish like red mullets, sardines, anchovies and many that I couldn’t identify. There were several types of fresh whole shrimp including big red prawns and tiny cold-water shrimp that looked and tasted like our beloved Maine shrimp. We missed the Maine shrimp season this year because the state closed it down for conservation purposes, so having those little Sicilian beauties was sure a treat for our gang. One vendor popped a raw red prawn in my mouth. Wow, so fresh!

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Everything was pretty much brought from sea to market that morning. Small boats go out at night and show up at La Pescharia well before sunrise. The atmosphere is almost surreal, like stepping into a time machine. The vendors are packed into several open squares and side streets. Bright red awnings and umbrellas cast a light that make all the gorgeous colors really pop. Merchants are yelling and bragging about their selections while slicing tuna and swordfish with razor sharp huge knives or hand cleaning a fish for you. The colors, sounds, smells and sights overwhelm the senses and draw you into a scene that hasn’t changed for a long, long time.

Besides fish merchants there were incredible meat and produce stalls and markets. Whole skinned goats hanging with their little fur balls left intact on the tips of their tails, huge sections of beef and horsemeat were being sliced before us. All the local produce grown in the fertile soil of Mount Etna was piled high. Huge eggplant (a biggy here used in many dishes, including their famous caponata), wild fennel (which was blossoming all over the island), artichokes, strings of garlic, citrus fruits, melons and of course some of the worlds best tomatoes. Everything Sicilians eat is “in season”. Their long growing season ensures that.

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We were fortunate to have a kitchen in the house we rented so we actually were able to cook some of this bounty. One morning I spotted a small fishing boat pulling into the old harbor beneath our place. I ran down and bought a bucket of small, assorted fish including red mullet (triglia) one of the most loved fish in the Mediterranean. It’s called rouget in France, barbounia in Greece and salmoneta in Spain. People who grew up with these fish get a glassy eyed look of longing and love when you mention the name of this tiny, sweet and nutty flavored fish. And I had some that were still moving! Fried and served with local baby artichokes and a nice local Grillo wine we sat overlooking the fishing village of Santa Maria La Scala on the Ionian Sea.

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We also enjoyed whole grilled sea bass, raw Bluefin tuna belly (I bought a piece at La Pescheria that cost 11 euro and would have sold for a couple hundred bucks in Tokyo!), lots of sardines (including pasta with sardines, the famous Pasta con le Sarde), tiny whole fried baby squid and raw baby anchovies with just a squeeze of lemon and olive oil. Everything was so fresh that simple preparations, often just salted and grilled or fried were great.

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Today’s recipe is typical Sicilian, fresh and simple. Grilled swordfish (pesce spada) with a vinaigrette called salmoriglio. You just can’t refuse!

 

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Monahan's Seafood

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