Monday, 1 April 2013

Fishy Business

As the sun was rising, Jesus stood at the water's edge, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then he asked them, "Young men, haven't you caught anything?" "Not a thing," they answered. He said to them, "Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some." So they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken his clothes off ) and jumped into the water. The other disciples came to shore in the boat, pulling the net full of fish. They were not very far from land, about a hundred yards away. When they stepped ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it and some bread. Then Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. Jesus said to them, "Come and eat." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. So Jesus went over, took the bread, and gave it to them; he did the same with the fish. (John 21:4-13)

While they still could not believe it for joy and were full of amazement, he said to them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:41-43)

One of the strangest things about the New Testament is the presence of so much fish, but the absence of any details about what the fish looked like. Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) advanced the study of fish - ichthyology - making it into a formal scientific study. Between 335 BC-322 BC, he provided the earliest classification of different kinds of fish; he accurately describes 117 species of Mediterranean fish, and distinguished between aquatic mammals and fish. But the New Testament tells us nothing about the fish caught in the Sea of Galilee.

Was it the fish known as St Peter's Fish?

The St. Peter's fish owes it's name to its main characteristic, a clearly visible spot behind the gills. According to legend, over 2000 years ago, St. Peter dropped a coin into the Sea of Galilee and the fish caught it. St Peter picked the fish up and took the coin back, leaving his fingerprints on the skin of the fish. St. Peter's fish can grow to a maximum length of 70 cm and sometimes reach a weight of 8 kg.  It has no scales on its coarse, silver to golden-brown skin. It rarely uses his fins, but would much rather place itself on its side and drift, especially when hunting young flatfish. (1)

Probably not:

Saint-Pierre, San-Pierre, Jean Doré, Pèis de Noste Segne - John Dory, Gallocristo, Doree,  Atlantic John Dory, St Peter's fish.  Saint Pierre, Saint Peter's fish, on French menus, is a firm, tasty, white-fleshed sea fish, and one of the most popular fish in France. Unfortunately, for this particular tradition's creator the real St Peter, the fisherman, was a fresh water-fisherman and the John Dory is a salt-water fish. (2)

Indeed, what is forgotten is that the Sea of Galilee, despite its name, is in fact Israel's largest freshwater lake. It was until recent overfishing very prolific for fishing. The 19th century English clergyman, Henry Baker Tristram, recorded that "the density of the shoals of fish in the Sea of Galilee can scarcely be conceived by those who have not witnessed them".

But what species are found there? More than you might imagine.

The Sea of Galilee has been renowned for its fish from ancient times. There are 18 different species that are indigenous to the lake. They are classified locally into three main groups: sardines, biny and musht. Sardines are endemic to the lake. Today at the height of the fishing season tens of tons of sardines are caught every night. Biny fish consist of three species of the carp family. Because they are -well fleshed- they are very popular at feasts and for Sabbath. Musht means -comb.- These are large fish, some of which are 16 inches long and weigh 2 pounds. (3)

The sardines were a staple of the locals' diet and these were probably the "two small "fish" which Jesus used to feed the multitude. The musht fish has a long dorsal fin that resembles a comb and is today popularly known as "St. Peter's fish." This tasty fish could measure up to 0.5 m (18 in) and weigh 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). The third type is the catfish, which is not considered kosher because of its lack of scales. These probably would have been brought to mind when Jesus referred to the bad fish that would be thrown away (4).

So there are in fact two fish species which have the name "St Peter's Fish", one seawater, in French recipes, and one indigenous freshwater species.

On cooking fish, modern translations just have Jesus ask for some cooked fish; the King James version, however, has "broiled fish". This is also present in the earlier translations. Tyndale has "And they gave him a pece of a broyled fisshe and of an hony combe. (Luke 24:42)" But Wycliffe has "And thei proferden hym a part of a fisch rostid, and an hony combe. "(Luke 24:42); his fish is roasted not broiled.

But how do you "broil" fish? Mrs Beeton mentions "Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c" but does not have a recipe. Britannica says "broiling,  cooking by exposing food to direct radiant heat, either on a grill over live coals or below a gas burner or electric coil. Broiling differs from roasting and baking in that the food is turned during the process so as to cook one side at a time."

So basically, it is the same as what in Britain is called grilling. America keeps the older more archaic term, and still refers to "broiling".

Patrick Perry, in an article on fish recipes has this for "broiled fish" (from The Saturday Evening Post, 1992, an American publication not to be confused with our own Jersey Evening Post)

Broiled Fish with Three Peppers
(Makes 4 servings)
1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen fish fillets or steaks 2 tablespoons light olive oil 2 tablespoons additional oil 1 small green pepper, cut into thinly sliced strips 1 small red pepper, cut into thinly sliced strips 1 small yellow or orange pepper, cut into thinly sliced strips 1/2 pound thickly sliced fresh mushrooms 1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped basil(or 1 teaspoon dried) 1 small jalapeno pepper, finely minced (seeds removed) Salt (optional) and pepper to taste

Preheat broiler. Rinse fish under cold water. Pat very dry. Brush lightly with olive oil. Season to taste. Broil fish 4-5 inches from heat source 6-12 minutes per inch thickness until fish is just opaque throughout.

While fish is broiling, heat additional oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add remaining ingredients to pan. Thoroughly blend and stir 3-4 minutes until vegetables are heated through, but still firm in texture.
Portion fish on individual warm plates. Top each portion with sautéed vegetable mixture. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (5-6 oz. fish + 3/4-1 cup sauce): Calories: 313 Sodium: 137 mg Protein: 35.1 gm Cholesterol: 98 mgFat: 15.8 gm Carbohydrate: 8.8 gm



James said...

Technically broiling and grilling are different, in that with a grill the heat comes from above, whereas with broiling the heat comes from below. A barbecue would allow you to broil.

Barbecued sardines... mmmmmmmmm...

(or should that be cod moving in a mysterious way?)

TonyTheProf said...

It depends whether you are in the UK or USA!

For Americans, to broil means to heat something from above as it sits on a slotted pan, so the juices can drip away. Grilling heats from below, and the juices drip down.

In the UK and Australia, heating from above is called "grilling" and broil means to cook meat in a closed container over heat, similar to the American pot-roast.