Sousing fish was a way of preserving it before refrigeration by saturating the fish with acid – vinegar in this case which, like salt,  prevents the growth of microbes. Sugar is also added and to create an agro dolce dish (sweet and sour). The fish is first fried in olive oil and then marinaded in the vinegar base. Slowly sautéed onions are a common ingredient in soused fish and different flavourings are added to the pickling mix. My Sicilian grandmother would put mint, bay leaves and slivers of garlic in her vinegar marinade (pisci ammarinatu in Sicilian), but the pesse in saor made in Venice and in Trieste where I lived as a child, has raisins and pine nuts in it. Pesse is Triestiane for pesce – fish in Italian.


Soused fish is found all over Italy, for example pesce alla scapace is cooked in central and southern Italy and the Molise version is flavoured with saffron, minced garlic and sage. Pesce in carpione from Lombardy has celery and carrot for flavourings, the Ligurian scabeccio has garlic, whole pepper and rosemary, and the Sardinian marinade has chilli, garlic, and tomato sauce.

Soused fish is also common in other cultures – Nordic countries thrive on soused fish and different versions of escabeche are found in Spanish, Portuguese, French and in North African cuisines. I have a German friend who also cooks soused fish – he adds coriander seeds to his.

My maternal grandmother always had soused fish (in pottery terrines and covered with plates as lids) in her kitchen in Sicily.


When she visited us in Trieste she did the same and our kitchen then also smelt of fish and vinegar. She particularly liked to souse eel – eel was good in Trieste. We would walk to the Pescheria together, she would choose the eel she wanted from a big tank and the fishmonger would kill it and chop it into pieces.


I did not much like this part, but I liked going to the Pescheria on the waterfront in the bay of Trieste. The imposing building is now home to Eataly.


Triestine pesse is mostly made with sardines and is often eaten with white polenta (yellow polenta is usually an accompaniment to meat).

Traditionally, the fish is lightly dusted with flour and salt before it is fried in very hot, extra virgin, olive oil. Although the flour helps to hold the fish together, the oil used to fry the fish will need to be discarded (the sediment will taint the taste of the oil) and the flour coating will often come away from the fish in the marinade.

On my way to Adelaide from Melbourne I drove through Meningie (at the northern end of the Coorong on the shores of Lake Albert) and I bought freshly-caught Coorong mullet. On this occasion I used them instead of sardines to make pesse in saor.


2-3 fish per person /12-16 fresh sardines or small fish (sand whiting, mullet, garfish, flathead, leather jackets), cleaned and filleted with heads and backbone removed.

plain flour and salt for dusting
olive oil for frying
2-3 large white onions, sliced finely
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted
sufficient white wine to soak the raisins
250 ml of white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Dust the fish fillets in a little flour and salt, shake off as much flour as possible and fry them in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Place them on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.
Soak the raisins in the white wine for about 30minutes.
Sauté the onions gently in some olive oil until they are soft. Add the vinegar and pepper and cook the mixture for a few minutes. Set aside.

Select a terrine deep enough to hold the fish, ingredients and vinegar marinade – a narrow, deep terrine is best. Place a layer of fish, add some onions (dig them out of the vinegar mixture), raisins (drained) and pine nuts. Continue layering the ingredients, finishing with a layer of onions, raisins and pine nuts on top. Pour the vinegar over the layers. Cover it, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving.  Serve at room temperature.


See: PISCI ALL’ AGGHIATA – PESCE ALL’AGLIATA (Soused fish with vinegar, garlic and bay)


BRACIOLINI or INVOLTINI DI PESCE – Small fish braciole stuffed with herbs, cooking demonstration at the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market


Braciolini di pesce are easily picked up with fingers and are ideal for the festive season when guests are standing around with drinks in their hands.

These make wonderful little morsels on an antipasto platter. Because they are small bracioIe and the stuffing is light – only herbs and garlic are used –fillets of small fish (with skin on) are suitable: anything from mild-flavoured whiting, stronger tasting flathead or gunard to even stronger oilier fish such as mullet or sardines.

Adelaide Showground Farmers Market is for shoppers who enjoy fresh, seasonal and regional food. It is open each Sunday from 9am-1pm.The Adelaide Showground Farmers Market also has Demo Kitchen which offers chef demonstrations and tastings of produce and wine and on Sunday Nov 27th 2011, I was able to discuss Sicilian Seafood Cooking with RozTaylor who is the Demo Kitchen Host.


Roz prepared a simple recipe from the book while I talked about some of the fresh market produce that was used in the kitchen demonstration. I also discussed some of the recipes in Sicilian Seafood Cooking and interacted with the audience.

We used fillets of Coorong mullet from Coorong Wild Seafood (Trevor Bowden). He and his wife have a stall at the ASFM.

This is the recipe:

750g (1lb 12oz) fish fillets
fresh herbs (rosemary, flatleaf
parsley and oregano)
garlic, finely chopped
fresh red chilli, deseeded and sliced (optional)
about ½  cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Flatten each fillet; if using steaks, cut into small pieces.
Mix the herbs, garlic, chilli and seasoning with the olive oil. Place a little
of the stuffing at one end of each fillet and roll up. If using chilli, use about
1 slice per roll in the herb stuffing.
Secure each roll with a toothpick.
Saute in extra virgin olive oil. Add seasoning and (if you wish) herbs (rosemary, bay, oregano) or whole garlic cloves or 1 finely sliced onion. A few minutes before the end of cooking, add about ½ cup white wine and reduce. Remove herbs and garlic and serve.

I also took the opportunity to discuss some of the vegetable produce from stall (Pat D’Onofrio). HIs stall is laden with a large variety of Italian vegetables.

On that particular day, Pat had puntarelle, chicory, green radicchio (called biondo) and endives – all wonderful produce where the soft centre leaves can be separated to be used in a green salad and the coarse leaves can be braised.
He also had fennel bulbs complete with long stalks of fronds- the fronds are excellent for flavouring and are a substitute for wild fennel which is used extensively in Sicilian cooking.

BRACIOLINI or INVOLTINI DI PESCE – Small fish braciole stuffed with herbs, cooking demonstration at the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market

Marisa demos to audience #2