Eating Lamprey in Galicia
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
Galicia is, for me at least, the place to go in Spain to taste the best produce caught in Spanish waters.
It was there that I was first served something that looked ugly, but tasted delicious. I could taste lots of garlic. I could taste red wine. But what was the chief ingredient of the dish. I couldn't make it out. I put on my glasses and, upon closer inspection, I was heard to exclaim: "Aha! It's fish"
No said the chef. That is not a fish. It is a lamprey.
I replied: "It looks like a fish. It smells like a fish. Surely then, it is a fish?"
No, no, no said the agitated cook.
So when is a fish not a fish?
When it is a lamprey, that's when.
The lamprey belongs to the vertebrate group of cyclostomes. That means, according to zoologists, that it is not a fish. The jawless creature actually fixes itself on to fish and aquatic animals using the suckers and horny teeth around its mouth. It then sucks their blood.
The lamprey has seven gilt slits on each side of its neck. It grows to a length of up to 4 or 5 feet and has a smooth skin. Its upper body is dark brown or a greyish blue with dark flecks. It is light on the underside.
In winter the lamprey swims (you see, it thinks it's a fish) from the open sea to spawn in rivers. The species has become rare in Europe due to pollution.
In Spain the lamprey can only be found in the lower course of the Rio Guadiana in Extremadura and in the beautiful Rio Miño in Galicia.
They are caught between January and April and the people of Galicia love cooking them. The festival of San José, each March 19th, sees local restaurants on the Rio Miño very busy as they serve up various lamprey based dishes.
Culinary experts buy their lamprey fresh. This ensures a dark, fatty and slightly sweet flesh that many diners prefer to the popular, more widely available, eel.
Chefs will often boil or braise lamprey in its own blood, often with local red wine. Or they will serve it cooked with onions, garlic and a wine vinegar sauce. Lamprey also finds itself stuffed into the pasty like Empanadas, as a filling. They are a Galician speciality.
There are many ways to enjoy this mysterious fish like creature. In Galicia it is also served with rice and toasted breadcrumbs (picatostes), or with mushrooms in an onion and wine sauce.
Some chefs air dry or smoke it. They soak it overnight prior to serving it up. When they do so it is always with a rosé or red wine. We shall be offering a lamprey based recipe on this site shortly.
Appearances can be deceptive. As with the eel, the lamprey doesn't exactly look attractive. It has big eyes and a nostril on top of its head. The nickname for the lamprey in some parts of the world is the "nine eyed eel."
But both lamprey and eel can be the central ingredient in some splendid Spanish meals. If preparing it for the more squeamish family members or friends, it is best if the first time they see the lamprey is when you serve it up as part of a tasty meal.
In the raw it doesn't look like a fish. But then it isn't. Not really!