Giovanni & The Three Little Fishes

June 9, 2012

Meet Giovanni. A fisherman with a stall two steps from the deep blue sea.

FIsh Seller in Southeast Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

I approach him timidly, we salute, and and I point to some fish.

“I’m American. I know nothing. What can you recommend?

“Which way do you want to cook them?”

“In a pan, I guess.”

Giovanni indicates some small rosy fishies with those rubbery gloves of his.

“OK,” I say in Italian. “Give me three of those. But will you please clean them and cut off their heads?”  I love to cook fish, but only if they’re beheaded.

Giovanni nods. Sure. Sure. And turns around to the sink.

I pay him a total of €3, €1 per fish, which seems a bargain. But lo and behold, when I unwrap the package at home, six bright eyes are staring me down.

Fish from Sicilian Waters; copyright Jann Huizenga

“Giovanni!” I curse.  (Can my Italian really be that bad?)

Their scared coral-pink eyes make me think dark thoughts:  You were alive a few hours ago…. Can I? Should I? 

Then I dust them with flour the way Giovanni said. The eyes vanish.

Fish dredged in flour; copyright Jann Huizenga

I plop them into the frying pan in a bit of hot oil.

“Cook until they smell good,” Giovanni had said. “A few minutes per side.”

Fried fish in Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

I sprinkle some Sicilian sea salt on the three little fishes, spritz them with lemon.

Slowly I fork the flesh apart.

I’m sad but glad.

It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

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35 comments to Giovanni & The Three Little Fishes

  • Gian Banchero

    Cara Andrea; Thank you for leading us to your Facebook photos showing your family making cucidatti which look exactly as they should, that is full of color and excitement!! The cucidatti are a history lesson in one bite, chocolate from Latin America via the Spaniards, sugar and honey from the Arabs, spices from foreign lands, all combined to make a pastry singularly Sicilian. Cucidatti is from u cu ci darri? (dialect), “To whom shall I give (these) to?”. Outside of Sicily cucidatti are ALWAYS better homemade. Thank you Jann for Baroque Sicily!

    • Jann

      Gian–mille grazie! Spaniards, Arabs, Sicilians–all mixed up to produce an incredible cuisine. I love your informative comments, Gian. Thank YOU!!!

  • Ian Henry

    Hi jan you are so right, the island is fantastic but the people are truly amazing, back around the 20/7 will let you know, can’t waite to catch up properly, if that doesn’t work for you,back for 2 months from 15 th of august.

  • Gil

    Looks good, Jann! The Mediterranean and other seas in that region yield a bounty of delicacies. When my wife and I were in Barcelona during our cruise, we stopped at the Boqueria market. She was more or less spooked by the fish just sitting out on the tables “staring”. It didn’ bother me as much since I grew up in South Louisiana around plenty of fish and seafood markets. I assured her that this is the way it has been done for centuries, especially along the Mediterranean.

    • Jann

      Thanks for this comment, Gil. It’s all about what you get used to. When I first met my husband in college, he had never eaten any kind of fish other than fish sticks! Really! (He sort of didn’t know there was any other kind.)

    • Andrea

      I’m from South Louisiana too – still live here! I think we just get used to all the seafood we have here. Not much freaks me out anymore. I’ve met people before (people from some of those “other” states), who are were grossed out by crawfish or scared of them.
      Also, my family background is from Italy, specifically Sicily. I’ve always felt we have some special connection – Louisiana and Italy – from boot to boot! When I was in Sicily, I felt like there was a similarity to Louisiana – the friendly people, the food, weather, trees and plants, etc. Maybe that’s why my ancestors chose Louisiana! Who knows???

    • Jann

      Andrea, thanks for this comment! So interesting. Is there a big Sicilian diaspora in Louisiana???

    • Andrea

      I think there used to be more of a Sicilian culture in Louisiana. It’s probably died out a bit, unfortunately. My great grandparents came from Corleone in the late 1800s through the port at New Orleans and settled in a small town in South Louisiana. We’ve passed down a lot of the culture and traditions, and we need to make sure the younger generations keep the traditions alive.
      If you are on facebook, you can see our photos of us making fig cookies. We always make them around Christmas time with my Dad.

  • Gian Banchero

    Jann, in response to your/my above comment: YOU ARE A SICILIAN!!! The Sicilians aren’t as much of a race than a culture, mostly all needed is a smile and a good heart and a big love for the Island and you’re crowned a native and adopted by the populace.

    • Jann

      Gian, I *have* felt adopted by Sicilians–and of course the real reason I fell in love with the island is its people.

  • Anitre

    You are brave. I’m going to try cooking fish like that when we go back. I have to admit, that io preferisco filetto. Brava, Jann!

    • Jann

      🙂 Anitre, I feel like I’ve entered some kind of “grown up” culinary world! Like I can do this again!

  • the cheeks & neck collar are sweet meat too!

  • Triglie? Look delicious. Where is your fisherman or is that a secret?

    • Jann

      Triglie, si! I just looked it up. Mullet. He’s at the little seaside fish market in Donnalucata, Catherine.

  • zioronnie

    Ibla has a specialty dish of assorted fried fish. The little eyes look at you when you eat them, oh well, that’s how it goes.

    • Jann

      Hi Zio Ronnie, Thank you for reading and commenting! It sounds like you know Ibla well. I think when there are eyes involved, you pay more attention and appreciate more…..

    • zioronnie

      Jann, I have cousins in Ragusa, and my nonno was born there. He often talked about the ponte vecchio. I have had the pleasure of visiting Sicily 4 times, and seeing all my cousins in Ragusa and Trabia. Your blog is a wonderful reminder of the beautiful people and places. Keep up the good work!

    • Jann

      I am delighted to have you as a reader. How incredible it must have been for you to set eyes on the place where your nonno was born.

  • Diane

    Fish is plural. Fishes is only used when referring to different species.

  • The eyes have it.

  • I was talking with a Roman friend about how uncomfortable I am with fish looking at me and she informed me that the best part is the cheeks and that most italians feel like they’re being unfair if they remove that part before selling it. You are adventuresome and it paid off, I see. Looks yummy. Good for you.

    • Jann

      Yes, apparently things like fish cheeks, fish eyes, and fish roe used to be left/sold cheaply to the very poor, and now they’re considered delicacies for the rich…

  • Gian Banchero

    Ma, signorina, che vergogna, a nice now-Siciliana such as you must realize that Giovanni (“Gianuzzu” in Sicilian) was telling you when he wrapped up the whole fish that if you cut off their heads that much flavor and moisture is lost when they’re cooked. I prefer fish cooked such as you’ve done with flour and lemon, and, of course Sicilian sea salt, as such there is nothing to compete with the flavor of the fish and sea. Thank you for the visit to Giovanni’s and also your kitchen.

    • Jann

      Si, Gian–che vergogna, indeed!!! I’m still only a “quasi-Siciliana” or a “wanna-be-Siciliana” so there are so many things I do not know! I had no idea the head would provide more flavor and moisture. So of course Giovanni knew best, and it was his sly way of “correcting” me. Ha ha. Thanks so much for your great comments!!! You are a font of knowledge, and I so appreciate learning more.

  • –Their scared coral-pink eyes make me think dark thoughts: You were alive a few hours ago…. Can I? Should I? —

    Giovanni Rocks.

    …..but you rock like freaking Gaga, Jann. Xx

    • Jann

      🙂 Kim, that is the funniest comparison I’ve ever heard!!! xxxxxxx (Sweet of you to say, tho!)

  • Sad but glad huh? What a wonderful post Jann. I loooove fish cooked like this. I can only hope one fine day to find myself again in Sicily. Hopefully you’ll invite me to dinner. And we’ll raise a glass to Giovanni!! Bacione Jann. xx

  • Jann, Giovanni instructed you to cook the fish the same way my nana showed me when I was 17 years old! It’s the Spanish way too, you see. Only she also taught me how to gut the fish and remove the head. I don’t blame you. I hate that part as well. When my mother and I buy fish in the “pescaderia,” we always ask the girls to clean the fish for us. However, I can see your fish turned out perfectly well, head and all! Lovely character portrait of Giovanni! 🙂

    • Jann

      “The Spanish way:” You know the Spanish ruled Sicily for quite a while and left behind so many things–including their way of making chocolate. Maybe they left this pan-frying technique too? Thanks, Bella!

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