Certainly a lot has been written about the health benefits of fish. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which protect effectively our vascular system and protect our heart from coronary disease. This has also been shown to assist the brain function and protect from dementia and Alzheimer disease. In addition to omega-3 acids, dish contains vitamin B2 and D as well as important minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron and iodine.
Cretan seas offer fish of supreme quality. Especially fish sourced from Libyan sea (from the Cretan south) is of outstanding quality and has a very special taste. This probably owes to the fact that the seas to the south of Crete contain much more salt and iodine which makes fish taste better. Also note that Cretan waters (especially Libyan sea) are home of a unique fish species, named “skaros”, which is a type of parrot fish. Skaros is really delicious and is probably the only fish whose entrails are edible.
In Crete the great variety of existing fish is eaten mainly in 4 ways:
- grilled fish
- fish soups
- fish stews/casseroles
- pan fried fish
Of course a fish type can be cooked in a multitude of ways although some cooking methods tend to prevail for certain fish types. Below we present typical examples of how Cretans prepare some of the most common available fish on the island.
Big fish, such as red porgy (pagrus pagrus) (in Greek “fagri”), European bass (dicentrarchus labrax) (in Greek “lauraki”), sargo or white sea bream (diplodus sargus) (in Greek “sargos”), common dentex (dentex dentex) (in Greek “sinagrida”) or “skaros” (parrotfish) are eaten chargrilled mainly in fish tavernas and more rarely at home. If you happen to know a fisherman you will most likely be invited for a great fish barbecue!
Cretans also prepare delicious fish soups made of fish and fresh vegetables. A fish soup is usually made with European hake fish (merluccius merluccius) (in Greek “bakaliaros”), John Dory fish (Zeus Faber) (in Greek “christopsaro”), angler/monkfish (Lophius piscatorius) (in Greek “peskantritsa” or “kota”) or dusky grouper fish (in Greek “rofos” or “orfos”). Fish soups can be also prepared with rarer fish types, such as European conger (conger conger) (in Greek “mougri”), Mediterranean moray (muraena helena) (in Greek “smerna”) or scorpaena fish (in Greek “skorpina”).
Another great way that Cretans prepare their fish is as oven cooked casserole dish, a type of fish stew. A very common fish casserole is made with tomato and herbs and is known as “plaki”. There is a variety of fish that is prepared this way, such as hake or greater amberjack fish (Seriola dumerilli) (in Greek “magiatiko”). Another type of fish casserole is with olive oil and oregano, known as “ladorigani”, and this is a very common way to prepare sardines (“sardeles”). Fish could be also combined with vegetables, such as okra; this is usually prepared with dusky grouper fish (epinephelus marginatus) (in Greek “rofos” or “orfos”).
Cretans also love pan fried fish such as striped red mullet (mullus surmuletus) (in Greek “barbouni”), red mullet (mullus barbatus) (in Greek “koutsomoura”), bogue (boops boops) (in Greek “gopa”), mediterranean sand smelt (atherina hepsetus) (in Greek “atherina”) or spicara smaris (in Greek “marida”). Note that in Crete fried fish is not battered but rather dredged with flour before pan frying. Furthermore, olive oil is used for frying with greatly improves the produced taste.