Mar 11, 2009
Italian fish & seafood names, translated
I've put together a list of common Italian marine species, with Latin binomial and English translations which may help you decide what might work as a substitute, should the Mediterranean catch I mention not be available where you live.
Aguglia: Gar-fish (Belone belone) – The near absence of bones makes this fish a favorite among Italian children. Curious trait, unlike most other fish, the few bones aguglie do have are green!
Anguilla: European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) – A snakelike fish that lives in fresh water, and breeds in the sea. An urban legend states that wallets made out of electric eels can demagnetize credit cards. This was proven to be untrue, eel-skin wallets are infact made from hagfish which are unrelated to electric eels. Furthermore, it seems logic that magnetic clasps, not eel leather, are to blame for demagnetization.
Aringa: Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus) – Herring are among the most spectacular schoolers, they aggregate together in groups of hundreds of thousands of individuals. North Atlantic herring schools have been measured up to 4 cubic kilometers in size, containing an estimated 4 billion fish.
Aragosta: Mediterranean Lobster (Palinurus elephas) – This is a spiny lobster, customarily caught in the Mediterranean Sea. Its common names include European spiny lobster, common spiny lobster, and red lobster.
Astice Europeo: European Lobster (Homarus gammarus) – The European lobster is solitary, nocturnal and territorial, living in holes or crevices in the sea floor during the day. In the summer, lobsters seek mates often in rival corridors but, occasionally, they will look to their own territory to quench their wild crustacean lust. These sybaritic migrations are the peak time for lobster fishery.
European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) – This fish has come under increasing pressure from commercial fishing, and has recently become the focus of a conservation effort by recreational anglers. In Italy the seabass is subject of intensive breeding in salt waters. Some sustainable Branzino aquaculture farms raise their precious fish inland, far from coastal waters where wild fish feed and breed. But this raises the question of refuse disposal...
Calamaro Europeo: Squid (Loligo vulgaris) – This versatile little creature is virtually a small engineering miracle. Especially in the kitchen: the body of the squid can be stuffed whole, cut into flat squares or sliced into rings for Frittura di Calamari. The arms, tentacles and ink are also edible; in fact, the only parts of the squid that are not eaten are its beak and gladius (long thin hard horny remnant of its evolved mollusk shell).
Capasanta: Pilgrim scallop (Pecten jacobaeus) – The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of Saint James the Greater and is popular with pilgrims on the Way of St. James to the apostle's shrine at Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to his shrine often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrim also carried a scallop shell with him and would show at churches, castles, and abbeys etc. along the way, where he could expect to be given as much sustenance as he could pick up with one scoop. The association of Saint James with the scallop can most likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternate version of the legend holds that while St. James' remains were being transported to Spain from Jerusalem, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells. A darkly romantic and beautiful, dreamlike image.
Carpa: Carp (Cyprinus carpio) – In Victoria, Australia, the invasive common carp has been declared as noxious fish species, there is no restriction therefore on the quantity that a fisher can take. In South Australia, it is an offence for this species to be released back to the wild, and an Australian company churns common carp into plant fertilizer. That's a lot of carp.
Castagnola/Guarracino: Black Damselfish (Chromis chromis) – I have never heard of anybody employing these fish for culinary use. I'm only mentioning them because guarracini are such charming little black fish; they come swimming between your feet in shallow to medium rocky depths. A 1700s tarantella song is dedicated to the small swimmer, and the lyrics narrate the story of the guarracino's troubled marriage to the sardine; the gossip, jealousy and the huge fight that takes place among the wedding reception guest-fishes, all of whom are minutely listed in the song.
Coregone: Lake or Common Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) – The Lake whitefish is considered LC (Least Concern) on the IUCN conservation list. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is an international organization dedicated to natural resource conservation.
Cozze/Mitili: Mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) – I remember I was 7 when I got my first cholera shot. The pandemic had hit Naples quite hard and people were dropping like flies. Some say eating raw mussels on the Lungomare may have played some part in the outbreak. My arm hurt for a week after the vaccination, and I've always been careful of not eating raw mussels.
Dentice: Dentex (Dentex dentex) – Dentice is one of the most prized Mediterranean fish. Rich, flavorful, and gains a special something when prepared with rustic tomato sauce or salt roasted. If you live beyond the Mediterranean, Sea Bream or Porgy are excellent substitutes.
Gambero: Northern Prawn or Pink Shrimp (Pandalus borealis) – Many different English names are used, with little consensus (deep-water shrimp, cold-water shrimp, northern shrimp, Alaskan pink shrimp, pink shrimp, northern red shrimp). Often the word shrimp is replaced by prawn, albeit incorrectly.
Grongo: European Conger eel (Conger conger) – Jules Verne-type creature of the deep, conger eels can be quite scary if encountered during deep sea diving, considering the snake-like monsters can measure up to 3 meters (10 ft), and weigh up to 65 kg (143 lbs). As a child I once saw one hauled off a fishing boat onto the pier in Positano, and the image made such an intense impression, that it haunted my dreams (and swims) for many days after. As an adult, I tasted it both baked and fried. And never really developed a liking to it.
Lampuga: Dolphinfish, Dorado or Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) Mahi-mahi dwells in Mediterranean waters too, don’t let the Polynesian name fool you. In Sicily, especially in the area around Porto Palo of the island's southern Capo Passero for example, fishermen weave plam-leaf floating "carpets" tied to a heavy anchored weight, creating a large shadow area in the lampuga inhabited coastal waters. This system takes advantage of the mahi-mahi's typical behavior of hanging out in shadowy patches near the coastline during daylight hours. It is a highly appreciated food, but beware: some restaurants will substitute any soft flaky white fish instead of real mahi mahi because it is cheaper.
Lompo: Lumpsucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) – Its translucent orange eggs are used as a delicious and affordable alternative to the wildly expensive caviar produced by sturgeons.
Mazzancolle: Caramote Prawns (Penaeus kerathurus) – Very, very tasty custaceans. These prawns can be quite large, and more richly colored than most common pink shrimp. Because of their quality, size and colors, mazzancolle are sometimes called Gambero Imperiale, or imperial shrimp.
Merlano/Molo/Moletto: Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) – another Atlantic cod-like fish whose eggs travel with Gulf stream currents across oceans, and down from Britain to our enclosed Italian seas.
"stoccafisso" (dried cod) or "baccalà" (salted cod).
Marmora/Mormora/Pagro: Redbanded Seabream or Red Porgy (Pagrus auriga) – Red porgy may be sold as "Tai" in sushi restaurants. Then again several other species, including tilapia, red sea bream and red snapper are also marketed as Tai...
Muggine/Cefalo: Flathead Grey Mullet (Mugil cephalus) – Its essiccated roe is called bottarga, which is commonly grated on seasoned spaghetti; or eaten sliced as an appetizer during Roman Jewish saders.
Nasello: European Hake (Merluccius merluccius) – Many stocks in Northern Europe are over-fished, and hake are a slow-growing, late maturing species, that makes them vulnerable to over-exploitation. Plus, the methods used to catch hake – midwater trawls and gill nets – are associated with a high capture rate of immature fish which are discarded, and also kill dolphins. I boycot hake.
Ombrina: European Drum, Bearded Umbrine, Shi Drum or Corb (Umbrina cirrosa) – belong to the scaienidae family, which is better known as "drums or croakers." Drum fish and croaker fish are differentiated by whether they produce a drumming sound or a croaking sound when they pop their heads above the water. They like to live in rocky environments.
Orata: Gilt-head Seabream (Sparus aurata) – Gilt-head seabreams are very popular in Italian fish markets, and along with sole fish, among the fisrt to be fed to small children.
Ostrica: Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) – Italians love their oysters, and even if wisdom dictates to never eat them in summer, when they are filled with milk and can spoil easily because of the heat, I've recently enjoyed the Tsarskaya variety that is farmed at extreme depths, and can be eaten safely year round.
Parago/Pagello/Fragolino: Pandora (Pagellus erythrinus) – Not home to the Na'vi, rather a popular fish species in Mediterranean countries, with delicate white flesh, silver in color and with a pink tinge. Perhaps this is why in Italy its most common name is "fragolino," which is a diminutive term associated with the idea of a little strawberry.
Passera di mare/Platessa: European Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) – Breaded frozen plaice fillets, ready to be baked or fried at home, are readily available in Italian supermarkets. Plaice is very similar to halibut.
Persico: Perch (Perca fluviatilis) – Prized fresh-water fish, and used in a variety of Italian recipes.
Pezzogna: Bluespotted, Red or Blackspot Seabream (Pagellus bogaraveo) – A very similar fish to Pandora or Snapper. On the Amalfi coast this is the fish most commonly cooked all'acqua pazza.
Polpo/Polipo: Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) – Common Octopus is intelligent enough to learn how to unscrew a jar and is proverbially known to raid lobster traps. Octopi are so gluttonous of and feared by the posh crustaceans, that if one should inadvertently be dropped in a lobster tank, a heart attack would decimate the clawed creatures in a matter of seconds. I've seen it happen in a Viareggio restaurant. Among the other stunned patrons, I got complimentary lobster that night. The waiter culprit, on the other hand, got fired.
Razza/Arzilla: Thornback ray (Raja clavata) – Like all rays it has a flattened body with broad, wing-like pectoral fins. The body is kite-shaped with a long, spiky tail, and the back is covered in numerous thorny spines. Ray is not a prized fish, and in Italy it's often used in simple preparations, to add flavor to fish stews, soups and pasta dishes. A typical Roman specialty is a soup made with broccoli and ray.
Riccio di Mare: Sea Urchin (Echinoidea) – Female sea urchins can be black, or dull shades of green, olive, brown, purple, and red. They are harvested primarily for their gonads (reproductive organs) which are referred to by the culinary term "roe," a true delicacy. Urchin roe is a popular sushi item, sold under the Japanese name Uni. Urchin roe is served in a variety of forms including with rice, preserved in brine and alcohol and salt and in casseroles. I snorkel and harvest my own, eating them raw straight from the sea. Delicious!
Amberjack (Seriola dumerilii) – Amberjack tend to like the high seas, and are delicately flavored, with firm, white flesh. They can be quite large, so I usually purchase ricciola in fillets and grill or bake them with just a touch of olive oil, lemon and breadcrumbs.
Rombo chiodato: Turbot (Psetta maxima) – Turbot is a large flat fish, whose flesh is very tasty, especially oven-baked with potatoes. The Italian name, rombo chiodato, means 'full of nails' referring to the presence of spiny knobs on its dark upper surface that look like nail heads.
Salmone: Salmon (Salmo salar) – Consuming wild-caught or sustainably farmed salmon is considered to be reasonably healthy due to the fish's high protein, high Omega3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content. Here is a splendid salmon recipe shared here by a British Columbia friend and fellow foodie.
San Pietro: John Dory (Zeus faber) – This beautiful (and pricey) fish is recognizeable by its bizarre, almost prehistoric shape, frayed dorsal fin and the distinctive pair of spots on its sides. I love to bake it whole and spend hours picking away at its heavy bones, or splitting it into 4 fillets and cooking it briefly all'acqua pazza, with just a hint of fresh tomatoes and a thread of olive oil.
Sarago: White Seabream (Diplodus sargus) – When this hermaphrodite fish goes in heat, its forehead turns blue. The firm and tasty flesh is very similar to Porgy, and it is best broiled, grilled or poached.
Sarda/Sardina: Sardine (Sardina pilchardus) – Sardines (or Pilchards) are very common in the Mediterranean (and not only). Most associate sardines with canned fish, but the fresh fish are so much better tasting.
Scampi: Norwegian lobster, Dublin Bay prawn, Langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus) – Many names for the large spiny prawns with claws that grace the Italian table. Several shrimp and prawn farmers worldwide are experimenting with innovative aquaculture methods such as enclosed, recirculating systems that filter wastewater and can be located far from the coast, reducing impact on the environment, and thus also rearing healthier crustaceans.
Seppia: European or Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) – Cuttlefish–and its black ink–are starring ingredients in the Italian cuisine, gracing risotto, entrées and pasta dishes. Eugenio Montale's ground breaking debut collection of poetry "Ossi di Seppia" (Cuttlefish Bones) was published in Turin in 1925. Montale, who grew up in Liguria along the Mediterranean Sea, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975, for his long and prolific career. Montale's Cuttlefish Bones remains one of the best-known and influential collections of Italian 20th-century poetry.
Sgombro: Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) – Its high oil content makes this particular fish loved by nutritionists and cholesterol patients, and shunned by dieting supermodels. Lovely grilled and roasted, or pickled. The canned kind is excellent squeezed of its packing oli, crumbled over salad, and dressed with just a splash of lemon juice, and some dill.
Sogliola: Common, Atlantic or Dover Sole (Solea solea) – Sole play a starring role on the Italian dinner table, and are among the first fish most Italian kids eat. Scrupulous mothers prepare it 'al piatto' (cooked between two plates over boiling water), my mini-gourmet prefers it floured and quickly sauteed in butter, 'alla mugniaia,' the Italian equivalent of the French meunière.
Spada: Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) – Because of their massive size – an average swordfish weighs aropuns 100 lbs – they're usually sold as steaks.
Health Alert: The nonpartisan nature advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund has issued a consumption advisory for swordfish due to elevated levels of mercury.
Sugarello/Suro: Atlantic horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus) – Sugarello gets its English name from the legend that other smaller species of fish could ride on the back of it over great distances. Other names include Common Scad, Maasbanker, Pollock, Saurel, and Rough Scad. Sugarello is also known to be a voracious jellyfish eater.
Tonno: Northern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) – The tonnara (tuna fishing village ) of San Vito Lo Capo is a stunning place. The crystal waters are so inviting and clean, you are driven to dive in. When I visited I was 3 months pregnant and enjoying the end of morning sickness season. That's where I first learned about the slaughter called mattanza and how the entire community survived on that seasonal activity.
Albacore (Thunnus alalunga) – A number of programs have been developed to help consumers identify and support responsible and sustainable fisheries. Perhaps the most widely accepted of these is that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). After extensive review of the best available science, MSC declared the U.S. North and South Pacific albacore pole and line, and troll fisheries ("pole & troll") as the first and only certified sustainable tuna fisheries in the world. The MSC certification program establishes that the seafood product is traceable to the certified sustainable fishery. By purchasing products bearing the MSC blue tick eco-label, consumers express their support for sustainable fisheries and encourage the use of sound fishing methods that promote the future health and abundance of ocean ecosystems.
Tonnetto: Bullet Tuna, Maru Frigate Mackerel or Little Tunny (Auxis rochei) – There are many other members of the tuna family, like for example the tonnetto, which is identified as bullet tuna, or little tunny.
Totano: Broadtail Shortfin Squid, or Flying Squid (Todarodes sagittatus) – Totani resemble calamari, the common squid, but with differently placed fins and a more elongated body. They can also be larger, like common squid and octopus, but the smaller specimens are overall better tasting and textured.
Trota: Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) – Lake trout are quite common in Italian fish markets, given the many waterways and laghi.
Commercially, telline are fished by boats carrying nets that drag through kilometres of the superficial layer of the sand banks, a huge environmental no-no.
Unfortunately, like many other sea creatures they've been overharvested and are not as common as they once were. The only testimony of their popularity is the few empty shells washed up on the shore after the tide goes out. Silent early morning walks on the sandy beach, and picking up empty telline shells is my son’s favorite meditation technique. I associate bruschetta topped with garlic sautéed telline to the flavor of Roman summer. At the Mastino seafood restaurant in Fregene – a coastal resort town just south of Rome's Fiumicino sea/airport – you can still get some under the counter.
Vongole: Striped Venus Clams (Venerupis aurea) – There are several clam varieties in Italy, like the renown Vongole Veraci, (Venerupis decussata) identified as Carpet Shell clams, or Tartufi (Venus verrucosa), or the small, striped Vongole poveracce, known in the English speaking world as Venus clams. All work wonderfully with sauteed garlic and a dash of parsley. Spaghetti and colatura di alici are welcome companions.
Cicenielli, Gianchetti or Bianchetti is the name attributed to any kind of baby catch, very small, jelly-like and transparent, prepared either steamed or fried in a light batter. Other names such as Allievi (pupils), Neonata (newborn) or Latterini (local whitebait) designate other varieties of small newborn fishes. Only the latter can be bought without infringing the law, since latterini are a particular species that never grows larger than their 2–inch size, while as far as the others kinds of newborn catch mentioned, their marketing is illegal. In fact whitebait generally consists of immature herring, sprat, sardines, mackerel, bass and many others, therefore a non-ecologicial foodstuff.
Fravaglio, on the other hand are the slightly larger (but only a few centimeter long) minnow-shaped young fish types, like for example fravaglio di triglia, is what's intended for young striped red mullets; fravaglio di alici, young anchovies. These are typically deep fried and eaten whole in the famed Fritto di Paranza, splashed with lemon juice and paired with a raw cipolla scamazzata, an onion whose juices and flavor have been released by a strong overhand punch.
Did I leave out what you were looking for?