It’s Friday and so I thought I’d do a handy introduction to Lavraki a delicious Mediterranean fish to eat. Ideal perhaps for first time visitors to Cyprus.
If you ask me for my top five fish to try when visiting Cyprus, then Lavraki (you might see it on menus spelt like this, λαβράκι) is right up there. Read on to find out why I rate it so highly.
For those who have travelled to Cyprus from the UK, there is a good chance that you will have eaten the cousin of this fish back at home. Lavraki is the Greek name for the European Bass, whose cousin is know by the rather curious term Sea Bass. Why curious? Well since there are no freshwater bass by definition the bass is a salt water fish.
What is it like?
Lavraki has a clean white flesh when cooked. It is not a dry fish, neither is it an oily fish. It is sweet and delicious. For these reasons it is one of my favourite dishes when eating out at a fish taverna.
Shopping for fish?
The fish straight out of the ocean has a glinting silver colour. It is generally sold as a whole fish at fishmongers. You can ask to have your fish cleaned and have the scales and spines removed before taking it away to cook at home or on a bbq. Be very careful of the spines along the backbone of the fish and also along the underbelly. The spines are easy to spot if you raise the fins from the back of the fish towards the front.
When eating out, your fish will normally be served on the bone. It will be opened up and cleaned before being grilled on a charcoal bbq. When presented with a fish like this you are going to have to work to remove the flesh whilst avoiding the bones. That said the fish will tend to fall away from the bone, making it much less of a challenge than it sounds! Bone in is worth it though because you get much more flesh than you would if you bought a fillet. I also think that cooking on the bone adds to the flavour.
The European Bass was first described in 1758 by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus in his work Systema Naturae. He named it Perca labrax. That name eventually became Dicentrarchus labrax the accepted name in 1987 . Even the name has Greek overtones. Its generic name, Dicentrarchus, derives Greek from the presence of two anal spines, “di” meaning two, “kentron” meaning sting, and “archos” meaning anus.
The European bass is sold under dozens of common names in various languages. You might see it across Europe as “European bass,” “European seabass,” “common bass,” “capemouth,” “king of the mullets,” “sea bass,” “sea dace,” “sea perch,” “white mullet,” “white salmon,” or simply “bass.”
There are two genetically distinct populations of wild European bass. The first is found in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the second is found in the western Mediterranean Sea. We will be discussing and you will hopefully be eating bass from the Mediterranean.
European bass was one of the first types of fish to be farmed commercially in Europe. They were historically cultured in coastal lagoons and tidal reservoirs, before mass-production techniques were developed starting in the late 1960s. It is the most important commercial fish widely cultured in the Mediterranean.
The most important farming countries are Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Croatia, and Egypt. Annual production was more than 120,000 tonnes in 2010. European bass is also known as lavraki (Greek: λαβράκι]), lavrak (Hebrew: לברק), levrek or bayağı levrek (Turkish), lubina (Spanish), robaliza (Galician), robalo (Portuguese), loup de mer (French), and biban de mare (Romanian).
On Cyprus almost all of the Lavraki offered for sale will have come from commercial fish farms. Along the coastline you can spot the huge off-shore lagoons where the fish grow to size before being harvested for the table.