In the weeks before Christmas, I received an email headed Sharks in Peril. It was sent by Tooni Mahto, Marine Campaigner from The Marine Conservation Society and was a call to action to reduce shark fishing. The gruesome practice of catching sharks purely for their fins was a special focus of Tooni Mahto’s message. Having watched documentary footage of sharks being hauled on deck and having their fins hacked off, before pitched back into the sea to writhe and drown, I can’t imagine how anyone could sit down to relish shark fin soup.
Many shark species are listed as endangered by all of the conservation associations. And shark is caught and sold under a variety names, the most common being “flake”, which disguise what is really on sale. Many seafood customers are not aware that Fish and Chips shops, especially, use shark, sold as flake for their battered fish. King George whiting and flathead tails are a sustainable and better tasting alternative to ‘flake’. Even before I knew “flake” was actually shark, I never liked the taste.
In Italy, shark is called pescecane (fish/ dog) but it is also called squalo, however it also has other names (palombo, verdesca, smeriglio, vitella di mare) and Italians like the rest of the world may not know that they are eating shark or an endangered species.
From Slow Fish, Italy:
I pescecani non sono una minaccia per gli uomini, sono gli uomini che minacciano (e pesantemente) i pescecani!
Sharks are not a threat to men, it is men who threaten (and heavily) sharks.
The Sharks in Peril email came with an invitation to cut out the shape of a globally endangered hammerhead shark, and within the shape to write a message, which could be sent to the Australian Government. The photo above is my best effort to get the message across.
The following quotes have come from the Sharks in Peril Appeal and I hope that it will motivate you to look at their website.
Walking into a supermarket or fish and chip shop the last thing you would expect to see is an endangered species for sale. There would be outrage if tiger, whale or panda were being sold. But you will find globally endangered hammerheads available, right here in Australia.
Every year a staggering 100 million sharks are caught and killed across the globe.
Huge consumer demand for shark fins and other shark products has made sharks among the most valuable fish in the sea.
As silently as sharks slip on to the menu, their numbers slip towards extinction.
While more and more nations are giving their sharks sanctuary, here in Australia we’re finning,, filleting and battering them into oblivion.
But this isn’t a distant problem in a distant ocean. Australian fisheries catch hundreds of thousands of sharks each year, sending shark meat to our supermarkets and fish shops and contributing hundreds of tonnes of fins to the shameful international trade in shark fin. Inconceivably this includes tens of thousands of sharks caught from within the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef including endangered species like the scalloped hammerhead.
N.B. If you have a copy of the first AMCS guide there are some changes to the classification of particular species of fish.
Batter is called pastella in Italian and this particular one is mainly used to coat vegetables and fruit before frying, Using a heavy type batter is common for fish in Australia, however Italians generally use a much lighter batter to coat fish before frying ( light coating of flour or dipped in beaten egg first, then fine breadcrumbs).
Recipe from L’Artusi, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (Pellegrino Artusi).
100g plain flour,1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, 1 egg- separated, salt to taste, and a little water.
Combine egg yolk with other ingredients (add as much water as necessary) and make a thick batter.
Rest for 2 hours.
When ready to use add beaten egg white (stiff).
“It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”
Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860
When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first )will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta
Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.
There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.
These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.
Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.
Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.
Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.
Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.
Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.
Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.
From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)
fish, 500g, cut into dice
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
cherry tomatoes, 1 punnet, if too big cut in half,
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
fresh herbs, use either: a handful of basil or parsley, or fresh mint,
white wine, 1 glass
salt and freshly ground pepper (or chilli flakes)
Cook pasta and make sauce as it cooks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Sauté the fish ( you can keep it all in one piece if you wish), add the cherry tomatoes. Remove the fish and tomotoes from the pan but leave the juices in the pan.
Add the white wine and reduce .
Add the herbs and stir through the sauce.
Return the fish and tomatoes to the pan. Separate the fish into the size pieces that you wish.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan where it was cooked.