Over a year ago now I wrote a post in which I mentioned the Nurse Hound (Scyliorhinus stellaris), what the Portuguese call gata and what I thought was enjoyed in Olhão on Christmas Eve. Now I was correct in identifying the fish as a Dogfish but it was the wrong one! I realised I had made an error when I was first preparing this Friday Fish post, and was all ready to tell you it is the Lesser-Spotted Dogfish. However fortunately I realised just in time that isn’t right either! It is in fact a Black Mouthed Dogfish (Galeus melastomus), which everyone in Portugal calls Leitão (sometimes spelt letão) apart from in Olhão where it is called Litão. To further complicate matters leitão is also a suckling pig in Portugal and the Black Mouthed Dogfish is sometimes know by its alternative English name, which is Black Mouth Catshark. No wonder I was confused!
Litão is one of the smaller dogfish, and one that is sustainable. It was once the poor man’s alternative to bacalhau but whilst it remains an Olhão tradition it is now as you can see from the above picture an expensive delicacy. The fish is prepared by first removing its skin, before cutting it open and ‘passado por um pouco de sal’. After a light covering of salt the fish is then dried in the sun for three to four days on a purpose built structure.
Until recent years it was apparently a common sight to see these ‘coathanger’ structures around Olhão. Modern hygiene regulations and food safety laws have though had a significant, and some would say negative, impact on where and who can dry the litão. I also suspect modern daily life has played a huge part in who has the time and who wants to dry it outside their home.
Once fully dried the fish are then stored for a few weeks or months before being consumed. They then like balcalhau need to be soaked. The soaking takes about a day, but from what I have read you do not need to regularly change the water during this period. The two main ways of cooking it ‘Litão à moda de Olhão‘ and ‘feijoada de Litão‘. We’ve not yet tried either dish as last Christmas Eve we went to the hotel for dinner and I’ve yet to see it on the menu at other times. I do want to try it though as it is meant to be delicious. Perhaps I will cook it myself when we return this winter. What do you think? In the meantime I thought all of these, particularly my last one, perfect for Cee’s Odd Ball Friday!