Story and photoby by Manos Angelakis
Aquaculture has been a very ancient practice, used by the Japanese and Chinese in Asia, by the Phoenicians in the Middle East, the Romans in Europe, and the Mayans in Mesoamerica to increase fish availability irrespective of seasons and location. The cultured fish can be ornamental, as is the coi (brocaded carp) decorating Chinese and Japanese garden ponds or goldfish – decorating ponds and home aquariums in Europe and the Americas - or strictly for consumption, as in other parts of the world.
At our Lazio trip along the Sperlonga coast, we saw the fish-raising ponds at Emperor Tiberius’ villa that still use brackish water (mixture of fresh and sea water) to support giant carp and eels. At our recent Ecuadorian trip, we passed by the edge of “El Cajas” National Park, high up on the Andes. Adjacent to the park is a fresh water trout farm that supplies trout to the restaurants and fish markets in Quito and Cuenca. There is also an inn and restaurant - Dos Chorreras - on site that will cook minutes-fresh trout whichever way you might want.
In Greece, aquaculture had been initially used since the very early 20th century to get the much-loved delicacy “avgotaraho” i.e. preserved fish eggs (Botarga), from fisheries in the Messolonghi Lagoon. As the pollution of the Mediterranean increased through the years, plus the unconscionable use of explosives (dynamite and grenades) after WWII for fishing depleted the salt-water fish stock to almost extinction, Greek entrepreneurs decided to start what is known as Mariculture, i.e. aquaculture in sea water. Commercial finfish farming in sea cages started in Greece in earnest in 1981, coinciding with the entry of Greece into the European Union, and was targeted mostly towards exports to Italy. Today, fresh fish from the Greek Mariculture industry is exported to the world and the United States, especially the East Coast. Overnight flights bring in gilthead bream (Dorado), sea bass (Branzino), sea bream, and large porgies, and to a lesser extent red mullet, amberjack, and trout. Immature bluefin tuna is caught in the wild, penned, and fattened prior to harvesting and dispatch to market. According to the Greek experts I spoke with, aquaculture exports have step-by-step outgrown the exports of many other traditional rural products and are currently just $35 million short of olive oil.
During a lunch organized by the Greek Trade Office in New York City in cooperation with the Federation of Greek Mariculture, at the Park Room Restaurant of the Park Lane Hotel, we had the opportunity to taste sea bream and sea bass that were flown-in the night before especially for the event; though farmed fish from Greece is flown in many times a week. Five excellent dry white wines accompanied the meal and two dessert wines finished the culinary extravaganza. Fish, whether wild caught or farmed, is not an easy meal to cook. In my experience, fish is many times overcooked in many restaurants and homes. The fish we tasted at the Park Room was properly cooked, moist, still maintaining their wild flavors even though they came from fish farms.
I personally think that the best way to prepare fish is the simplest. Just grilled (charcoal grilled is best), dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and a sprinkle of chopped parsley or cilantro mixed with sea salt and oregano.
© November 2010 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.