‘Eating fish during lent is associated with the Greek word for fish, ichthys, which is an acronym for Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, meaning Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. There are many interpretations of why Catholic tradition favours eating fish on Fridays, but the version that appeals to me most is found in the 15th Century Book of Festivals which says that when Adam sinned, God cursed the land – however, he did not curse the water and, therefore, it is lawful for man to eat what comes from the water during Lent.
Fish used to be the economical choice for families but, today, it is considered a treat, sometimes nearly a delicacy and often expensive. However, eating fish on Fridays is not about economics – the reasoning behind it is fascinating. After all, it is not exactly a penance eating fish, for most people.
This month we see a large variety of fresh local fish becoming available at local fishmongers; you should be able to find red mullett (trill), grey mullett (mulett), red rock fish (ċippullazz), white bream (sargu), moray eel (morina), octopus (qarnita) and gurbell (brown meager) and many more. When it comes to fish, the fresher it is, the better the flavour. To source the best fish, find a trusted fishmonger or hawker and stick with them. I usually ask for advice on fish from Saviour at Bottarga.
You can disguise the taste in chicken and meats that are not fresh, but the same does not apply to fish.
In today’s recipe, I use skate. It is soft, remains moist and still is under-rated.
The skate (ħamima in Maltese) needs very little cooking time and, for those that do not like the idea of picking bones, it is an ideal choice. Succulent, soft and moist flesh literally slides off the cartilage.
The flavour is delicate and, to retain its natural moistness, the fish is best cooked at a high temperature for as little time as possible.
This recipe is simple and easy to prepare and I hope you will give it a try.
Fresh fish should smell of the sea and the gills should be bright and moist, not just from being sprayed for display. When preparing it, the scales should flake off easily and the flesh remain firm. It is, sometimes, hard to judge when fish is ready and cooked and it may be easier to invest in a kitchen thermometer, rather than waiting for the flesh to turn from translucent to opaque. For perfect fish, the internal temperature should read at between 125ºC to 150ºC.
Eating raw fish has become very popular since the introduction of sushi. And cooking fish by merely soaking in lemon juice to make a ceviche style dish is another option. Unlike with poultry, eating fish raw does not carry the same risk of salmonella – however, raw fish may carry parasites and should be avoided by the elderly, pregnant women and children.
I like the simplicity of cooking fish al cartoccio, wrapped in a parcel with a slice of lemon and a few drops of olive oil, salt and pepper and baked in a hot oven for a few minutes. Fresh herbs, olives and capers can be added to serve it.