Raw Fish, Italian Style

30 May 2011

It started with the global craze for Japanese sushi and sashimi. Now Italian chefs are taking the concept of raw fish and making it their own, using typical products like extra-virgin olive oil, local herbs, squid ink and Campari. At the Taste Workshop “Raw Fish and Great Ligurian Oil,” held at Slow Fish 2011 on the final day of the event, participants could try three examples from three Ligurian chefs as well as learning more about the common anxieties surrounding raw fish.

“Apart from in Abruzzo, Marche and Puglia, raw fish is not very common in Italy,” said Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, providing some background context. “The exploding popularity of raw fish here is undoubtedly because of the Japanese influence. Sushi has conquered the world like pizza.”

While admitting that he was a big fan of sushi, Sardo said that he felt the soy sauce and wasabi often covered up the real taste of the fish. He said that Italian chefs often prepared raw fish without heavy sauces, in a way that offered a true expression of the fish’s flavor.

This was exemplified by the first dish, prepared by Andrea Sarri, chef-owner of Agrodolce in Imperia, on the Ligurian coast. The sweetness and delicacy of chopped raw hake was enhanced by a Campari reduction, Taggiasca olive oil, shreds of candied lemon peel and cubes of melon. “The small pieces of fish are more Italian than Japanese,” said Sarri, calling the bright, refreshing preparation “a beach dish.” He emphasized the importance of freshness when serving raw fish, saying he only used the catch of the day. “I want to taste the seawater,” he said.

On the subject of safety, there was a discussion of the parasite anisakis, which can be passed on to humans in raw saltwater fish and cause serious illness. Even the freshest fish can be contaminated with the parasite’s larvae, and the only way to make the fish safe (apart from cooking) is by freezing it. Trying to replicate restaurant-level blast freezing with a home freezer was not recommended, and Sardo’s advised the audience not to prepare raw fish at home but to leave it to the professionals.

Luca Collami of Ristorante Baldin, in Sestri Ponente on the outskirts of Genoa, had prepared a dish using a typical Ligurian vegetable, asparagus, in an atypical way. Purple asparagus from Albenga, a Slow Food Presidium, had been thinly shaved and immersed in ice water to make it crunchy. It was paired with cuttlefish which had been flash-grilled, then shocked in ice water, together with a lemon-olive oil emulsion and crispy black squid-ink crumbs.

The last dish, presented by Paolo Masieri of Paolo & Barbara, in Sanremo, was a modern take on a traditional preparation, marinated anchovies. The anchovies were marinated in lemon juice, white wine and salt, then in extra-virgin olive oil, before being stuffed with a mixture of roast bell peppers and aged goat’s cheese, and served with a bright-green sauce of fresh fava beans. The anchovies were arranged in a butterfly shape on the plate, and garnished with sprigs of fresh herbs from the chef’s garden.

In keeping with the Ligurian theme, the three dishes were paired with three Ligurian white wines, a Bianchetta, a Pigato and a Vermentino. Each dish took excellent local ingredients and let them shine with minimal manipulation, offering clean, fresh flavors and an expression of terroir. All in all, it was a quintessentially Italian experience.

For more information on the Slow Fish event, visit the website: www.slowfish.it

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