For a country that has large percentage of it’s 11M population living on islands or near the coast, it stands to reason that this is a nation that has an integral relationship with the sea.
The sea is a part of Greek DNA! The salt water runs through their veins.
For those that have left to live in other countries, they have mostly settled near the sea. In Sydney for example – suburbs like San Souci, Brighton-Le-Sands, Coogee and Maroubra have a strong Greek community within it’s shores. Even Socrates was noted as saying “We Greeks live around the sea like frogs around a pond”.
Most Greek children living close to the sea learn early to swim in the ocean and they are taught to fish at a young age. A fishing line is a common item in most homes.
Our friend Stamatis, who grew up on the island of Kos, is a butcher by trade, but in his heart, he is a fisherman. He came by boat to visit us, rather than by road, Onassis like in his arrival and stayed for a few days entertaining us with his daily fishing escapades and stories. We asked him one afternoon how he knew the difference between all the varieties of fish and he said to us with a straight face and emphatically, “the first rule of fishing is to know the difference between a dolphin and a shark”.
One day, after an early morning expedition on his boat, Stamatis returned with a bucket of fish and a grin from ear to ear – excited about his catch so that he could prepare our evening meal of Kakavia – Fisherman’s soup.
Kakavia is a soup born from the Ancient Greek fisherman, and is similar in tradition to the French Bouillabaisse – in fact it was probably the Greeks that brought it to the French when they settled in Marseilles in 600BC. Kakavia, uses the smallest fish from the day’s catch and simple ingredients that the fisherman could take with them when they were out to sea (like olive oil and onions). The fisherman would have cooked with seawater.
Because it uses small fish, the fish are removed after cooking and eaten separately, so there is no chance of swallowing the small bones. You will need to be careful when removing from the soup so that the fish don’t break up. It doesn’t matter what kind of fish you use, just make sure it is super fresh. There should be no fishy smell, just the smell of the sea.
Stamatis’ Kakavia has a basis of the iconic Greek soup – Avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup, which can also be made with chicken. We ate the soup sitting by the Aegean sea with a group of friends and a glass of Greek wine.
It was a perfect meal. Simply delicious.
1 kg small fish
1-2 dessertspoons salt
4 litres water
2 small red onions, sliced
Celery leaves from the top of a celery plant
1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots, chopped in rounds
2 potatoes, chopped in pieces lengthwise
2 zucchini, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped in chunks
3/4 cup medium grain rice
2-3 lemons (1/2 cup of juice)
1. Clean the fish, or ask your fishmonger to do this. Sprinkle the fish with salt and leave for an hour before you start cooking the soup.
2. Place onion, celery leaves, oil and water in a large pan and simmer for around 15 mins until the onion has softened.
3. Add the rest of the vegetables/tomato and cook for a further 20mins until the onion is translucent, or in Stamatis’ words, like jelly.
4. Add the fish and salty fish juice and cook for for 5-10mins. Until the fish is cooked but not before it breaks up. Carefully remove the fish and place on a platter, along with approximately a quarter of the cooked vegetables and a ladle of a little of the soup stock to keep the fish moistened.
6. Add the rice and cook for 8-10mins and then turn off the heat. At this point you want to rice to be almost cooked but not fully. It will continue to cook whilst the heat is turned off. You need to cool the soup slightly before the egg and lemon mix goes in or else you will have a soup full of scrambled eggs!
8. After about 10mins of cooling the soup down, commence beating the eggs in a separate bowl with a whisk. Slowly add 1 dessertspoon of lemon to the eggs – whisking well after each addition. Continue the process until all the lemon juice has been added.
9. Take a ladle spoon of soup and add to the egg/lemon mix in the bowl and whisk quickly. Add another ladle and whisk. Add one more ladle and whisk. By now the egg should be emulsified in your bowl enough to be able to fully add the mix to the soup in the pan. Once added, stir continually for a few mins to fully incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
10. Serve the warm soup and the platter of fish to the side. Stamatis says “first you eat the soup and then you eat the fish”.
11. Serve with a Greek salad and … and if you aren’t gluten intolerant (like me) you might like to dip some crusty bread into the remaining juices on the fish platter … I hear it tastes great.