Atherina (Mediterranean sand smelt)

The ether of the Greek seas!

Atherina, is one of the most delicious meze for tavern foodie lovers and it is described as the ether of the sea and fish!

AtherinaIt has an ethereal, silverish appearance and its skin is so thin that seems translucent. It is very tasty and easy to prepare, since it’s so small that it does not need to be gutted or descaled and when thrown in the pan it’s turned into fish potato chips, so delicate and crisp that can be eaten as a whole.

So atherina, the Mediterranean sand smelt, Atherina hepsetus, is a small fish reaching a length of 8-15 cm and it’s a form of whitebait. Its color is silver, greenish gray, featuring a black stripe in its side, extending from head to tail. It has relatively big eyes and a pointed snout, so Greek fishermen also call it “souvliti” meaning spit bearer. Atherina’s name derives from the ancient Greek verb “αθερίζω” (atherizo) meaning contempt because it was looked down on for its size – but not its taste!

Atherina is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iodine, as well as of vitamins A and D. These vitamins are better ingested by small fish in comparison with larger fishes, as they are consumed as a whole with their liver, where these specific vitamins lie.

In addition, like all small fishes, atherina is feeding solely on plankton, and therefore could be considered a safer option to bigger fishes which may feature high levels of mercury, a metal hazardous for health.

So when in Greece, in a tsipouradiko or a tavern, make use of its high nutritional value and benefit of its low price to put atherina on your table, your palate will thank you!

MLGFB Tip:

How to make “begoto” a delicious meze with atherina (4 portions)

Atherina2

Ingredients: 1 kilo atherina, 5 pomodori sliced, 3 medium onions peeled and cut into thin rings, 4 full tsp. of flour, 1/2 tsp. of fresh rosemary crushed, 120 ml olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  • In a large bowl put the fishes, the tomatoes and the onions
  • Sprinkle with the flour, the salt and pepper and the rosemary and gently mix all of them with your hands
  • Pour half of the oil in a pan and put it in the fire
  • Once hot, reduce heat to medium heat and spread half of the mixture
  • Fry for 3-4 minutes on one side and with the help of a spatula and a fork flip the other side to fry. During frying, the mixture will become like pie

Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.

Photo credits: Photo 1, Photo 2, Header Photo

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