Cooking Fish Sicilian Style
feti ra testa." This Sicilian proverb, that translated literally, means “the stink of the fish starts from the
head”, is a metaphor to signify that the problems of the people are caused by the ruling class. We can debate
the value of this similarity, but when referring to fish, it is the head that reveals the freshness of
In fact, a fresh fish has brilliant and clear eyes, the gills the color of the blood, and it should not have a fishy smell.
The flesh should be firm, there should be no missing scales and they should adhere firmly to the body. When buying shellfish (mussels, clams, oysters) select small size for tenderness, smell for freshness, wash and scrub each mollusk, and discard any that have an open or broken shell. Keep the shellfish in cold water for about one hour, than mix and agitate it with salt and rinse with cold water.
Go down the page for additional information.
Fish can be cooked without adding anything to it, it is easy to spoil the natural taste by adding to many herbs, spices or other ingredients. In Sicily the fish are cooked whole most of the time and simply dressed with salt, olive oil and lemon.
Usually, fish is fried or grilled in heavy iron skillets or in the square heavy metal grill you can find in every household. Obviously fish is also boiled or sautéed, but traditionally it was rarely baked, because the majority of people did not have an oven. In modern times, every household has an oven and baked fish is gaining popularity.
cooking fish at the Focacceria, we followed the teaching of our father: use fresh and wholesome products and do
not spoil it by cooking too long or by adding ingredients that would not enhance the taste or smell of the
fish, but on the contrary would detract from it.
But we had to cater to the request of our customers and with time we switched to fish fillets, and very few fried dishes. We baked the cod fish, the baccala’, the grouper, the stripe bass, the mackerel, the red snapper and any other fish that we could fillet. We cooked it in very delicate sauce with herbs and spices that would not overwhelm but enhance the taste and flavor of the fish we were preparing.
Fish and Seafood
In the Coastal Area around Sicily
In the Atlantic Coastline of North Americaand the Gulf of Mexico
Sicilian seafood has the characteristics of all Mediterranean seafood: a very pleasant smell of the sea, a taste that can be strong as in the tuna, swordfish, mackerel, aricciole (similar to a amberjack), anchovies or sardines, or a subdued taste as in the spigola (similar to the striped bass), and other fish of the bass family like occhibeddi (similar to the ocean perch), grouper, triglia (mullet), sarago (similar to porgy) sand shark, and finally fish with a mild taste as the whiting, sole, flounder, turbot, pesce San Pietro (John Dory), sea trout, snappers and monk fish to name the most commons.
Fish are consumed fresh, when the flesh is firm, and all of its qualities can be tasted and appreciated. Fish can be cooked adding very little to it; in fact it is easy to spoil its natural taste by adding too many herbs, spices or other ingredients. In Sicily the fish are cooked whole most of the time and simply dressed with salt, olive oil and lemon. Usually, fish are fried or grilled in heavy iron skillets or in the square heavy metal grill you can find in every household; also they are boiled and seldom sautéed in sauces.
In the U.S.A., a large variety of fish are usually available in your neighborhood fish store and a trusted fishmonger or your experience can help you to find and buy fresh fish from local waters and of good quality.
In the Atlantic coastline of North America,fish farming produce good products to satisfy the marketplace.
Clams, oysters, mussels and scallops are abundant and of excellent quality; in Sicily, they are scarce and small in size.
Large quantities of shrimps are fished in the Gulf of Mexico: in New York, shrimps are sold frozen or thawed and because they are very perishable, they are rarely sold fresh; however in some gourmet shops fresh shrimps with the heads on are available.
In Sicily local shrimps are available with the heads on; they are very expensive and come in all sizes, whereas without the head or frozen are available and less expensive.
Prawns or scampi often associated with the shrimp, come in many varieties. These crustaceous are part of the lobster family and the most common are the Norway lobsters or the Dublin Bay prawns.
In Sicily, the prawns or scampi are called “Lempitu di Fangu” that can be translated “Clinging to the Mud”.
Scampi are mostly sold fresh and alive, also are available frozen. Their fine meat,
enjoyable taste and the scarce availability commands very high prices.
In the States and in most of the world, prawns or scampi are referred to as large shrimp.
Astice or Homarus Gammarus is also caught in the Mediterranean Sea; it compares to the American or Atlantic lobster present in the shallow ocean waters from Canada to the Carolines. Sometime, the smaller size is incorrectly offered as Norway lobsters or Scampi.
In the seas around Sicily, a fully grown Mediterranean Lobster weights on the average between 12 pounds to a maximum of 18 pounds and it is 12 to 18 inches long. The body color goes from a brownish red to a coral red; when the lobster is cooked it turns red.
In the front it has two long antennas longer than the body to perceive odors and for defense and directional function. The taste is delicate, sweet and rich, the aroma is a characteristic of fresh sea flavor and the meat is incredibly tender and buttery: food fit for a king!