Gurbell [meagre in English] is one of the most delicious fish that is available locally. It has a firm and fleshy texture, with a mild taste that
‘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.
Filippo Berio Olive Oil available at Rimus Group
Olives and Capers available at Quality Foods
Saxa Salt by Premier Foods available at George Borg Ltd
Kitchenware by K & Co, Telephone 79415384
Fish by Saviour Deguara at Bottarga in Balzan
Fresh Vegetables by Big Fresh Mosta, Oscars Fruit and Vegetables and Barbuto [Organic]
A light crispy crust and a soft and creamy inside…..and they call them Bolinhos de bacalhau, frittelle di baccalà and here on the island Sfinec tal-Bakkaljaw, and bacalao in Mexico served on Christmas Eve.
Salt Cod fritters are one of my favorite childhood memories. Mum is the best sfinic tal-bakkaljaw maker ! What a treat, I love it when someone else cooks for me.
She told me today all about the street vendors she remembers as a young girl selling these salted cod fritters and local bean purée on carts with wheels around the villages…. street food that has now evolved to nearly a delicacy. Salt was a cheap method to preserve the fish in times of limited refrigeration space. I’ve seen recipes using baking powder for the fritters. Mum uses yeast and this means that the next day if you have leftovers they are moist, soft and doughy rather than inedible as they would be with a baking soda mix. I just adore them.
I found David Tanis’ piece on Salt Cod in the New York Times very informative and cannot agree more that I like mine chunky and rustic. We ate our fritters fresh served with olives from mum’s garden and a simple salad… This is what I call heavenly…
You will need:
1kg salted cod
vegetable oil for frying
500g all-purpose flour, plus some extra for dredging
10g dry yeast
a pinch of salt
Dried Oregano and Mint (mum used her own dried herbs from her garden)
Soak the cod in the later overnight,
Change the water and rinse twice
Boil the cod until soft, drain and remove bones.
Make the batter. put 10g of yeast together with the flour and dry ingredients,
Add luke warm water leave to rest and rise.
Dip the cod pieces into the batter and deep fry until crispy on the outside.
Leave to rest for 5 minutes. Serve