Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Silver toadfish

The good weather doesn't know how to stop. Temperatures only go up and the sun doesn't leave the blue sky anymore. So of course we had no problem seeing the eclipse of the moon last week. It was that warm that night that you could have slept beneath the red moon with its silver border.

My father used to say that when there's an 'r' in the month, there are fresh mussels. Well, it's not like that here on Lesvos. In autumn and December, there aren't always fresh mussels. When the new year is on its way they arrive. They're traditionally eaten at the Carnival and from then on the hunt for shellfish is on. The gulfs of Kaloni and Yera are famous for it.

I love shellfish, but only the cooked ones. This year I heard from many people that they became ill after eating shellfish. But mostly they ate shellfish - just like oysters - raw. If I get served raw shellfish, I very nicely ask the taverna owner to cook them. I am allergic to oysters and I am so happy that I can eat mussels and other shellfish. But cooked.

If I manage to find shellfish in the shop, I cook them just like I do the mussels in Holland: with a little carrot, an onion, some garlic, thyme, rosemary and some white wine. Like this they are very tasty.

When the Greeks cook them they also taste wonderful. I make sure that all cooked shells are open. You don't want to eat the closed ones, because they can be bad. Just as when you clean them, the open ones can be a risk. That's how I never get ill after eating them.

For me the best shellfish here on the island are the chtenia's, small St. Jacobs shells. After that there are the kidonia's, which have the same name as quinces, but they are Venus shells. And then comes the media, the mussels. And you should eat them outside in the sun, with one or more glasses of ouzo, some fava and some salad. Because without the gentle warmth of the sun and the fresh taste of the ouzo, you will taste only half of the salty flavour of the shellfish.

These days are the shellfish eating days and you can bet we do take advantage of that. Other fish are not about so much. The fishermen have bad days and in the restaurants you only have a small choice of fish: small fishes like gopa, marides and koutsomoures or sometimes a big palamida.

Just like the worlds population the fish are also migrating. Recently in the English language paper Kathimerini they warned of a lethal fish which moved from the Indian Ocean via the Suez canal to the Aegean: the lagocephalus sceleratus, or the silver toadfish (silver striped blaasop). For years some have already been seen along the coasts of Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. But now it seems that the silver toadfish finally settled down. In some places in the Indian ocean they are considered a delicacy, if they are prepared by an expert cook who knows how to remove the skin, the liver and the other organs because they are poisonous. Several people already died in Israel and in Lebanon after eating the silver toadfish.

This story very much reminds me of the stories of the Japanese poisonous blowfish, which is however number one on the Japanese gastronomic list of fishes. When the blowfish is not correctly prepared you take the chance of dropping dead at your table. However the blowfish seems to be such a treat that many people see it as an honour to risk death and eat it. The silver toadfish has the same poison as the blowfish: tetrodotoxin. Maybe not as much as the blowfish, because you do not die immediately after touching it, a risk you do have with the blowfish.

The blowfish got world famous thanks to the Japanese and eating one is high on the list for culinary tourists. Now we also have a fish here with which you can play Russian roulette. It's up to the expert cooks and the culinary dare-devils to turn this into a tourist attraction. I'll probably stick with cooked chtenias.

Photo: www.thejump.net: silver striped blaasop

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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