The ‘en garde’ fish – pesce sciabola

Considering how much I love to spend money — and by ‘spend’ I mean invest as oppose to ‘waste’ — and taking it for granted that no one would associate thrift and my person in the same sentence, I am thinking that people who have known me for a long time might well begin to wonder what’s got into me lately vis à vis all my talk of money and food.  The main reason for this post, for instance, today is that it is the cheapest fish I have come across: at Eu 8/kg! and that there is very little waste and, most important, is jolly delicious to eat — what more could one ask for?

Pesce sciabola is known as silver scabbard fish or sabre fish in English (hence the allusion to fencing in the title) and I had never come across it until a few months ago, at my local fishmonger’s.  It looks like a long eel-like kind of fish and its silvery hue makes you want to go home and polish the silver, it’s that shiny!

Sliced up silver scabbard fish …

Close-up of the silver skin …

Another client at the fishmonger’s told me she had eaten it for the first time in Calabria, and that it was also very popular in Sicily.  She also told me how to cook it : easy peasy.

Dredge the fillets of the pesce sciabola in flour and shake off any excess …

Fry in olive oil for a few minutes and then drain on kitchen paper …

Sprinkle some salt and add a squeeze of lemon …. and serve!  Quite lovely.  Also, for those who struggle with fish bones, the flesh falls away very easily so that the fish bones can be dealt with in an easy manner.

Long live this kind of cheap and cheerful food!

For those who would like to know a bit more about the fish, here are some references I found on the internet.

Silver scabbardfish

Scientific name: Lepidopus caudatus

Sicilian names: spatolaspadula

The silver scabbardfish reaches 9 kg in weight and 2.10 m in length. Its scaleless body is compressed and ribbon like, and leaves a lovely silvery tint on the hands and other things it comes into contact with. It has long sharp teeth along both jaws. The lower jaw is very prominent. The female lives longer than the male and is also bigger.

How and where it lives
The silver scabbardfish, known locally as “spatola”, is very widespread in the Mediterranean Sea. Here it lives in waters between 100 and 500 m deep, although it is also possible to catch this species at greater depths, up to 1500 m, and at lesser ones, from 10 m.

The silver scabbardfish is mainly caught as a bycatch when fishing for hake. Indeed, it is often thrown back into the sea, or eaten by the fishermen themselves. However, in the past it was an important fish resource for Sicilian fishermen. It is generally caught with bottom longlines, but it can also be fished with bottom trawls and trammel nets. The species can be caught all year round, especially from July to October.

At the market and in the kitchen
The signs of freshness to look out for are shiny skin and eyes and firm meat, which mustn’t break up easily. The silver scabbardfish must be handled with care due to its sharp teeth, even when dead. The meat is firm, very white with shades of pink, and is easily filleted. It has few bones, which are easy to remove, and its delicate, neutral flavour remains unaltered for a few days. It is sold fresh and in fillets.

The silver scabbardfish is very popular in Sicilian cuisine. Read more on the following recipes: “Silver scabbardfish with pine-kernels”, la “Silver scabbardfish Parmesan style”e la “Silver scabbardfish cutlets”.

Did you know that…
this species is so widespread in the Straits of Messina as to have given rise to a profession: the “spadularu”, or silver scabbardfish fisherman. Its tastiness has earned it the name of “signurina du mari” (young lady of the seas) in the Messina dialect. The silver scabbardfish often has parasites of the Anisakis genus, also present in other “pesce azzurro” species, detectable as filaments along the spinal column. These parasites are not dangerous to man if they are destroyed through freezing or if the fish is cooked thoroughly. The EC/853/04 Regulation, which defines specific hygiene requirements for food of animal origin, prescribes that fishing products to be eaten raw or virtually raw, and fishing products to be marinated and/or preserved in salt, must be frozen right through at a temperature of – 20° or less, in all parts of the product for not less than 24 hours.

Nutrition Facts
The silver scabbardfish is classified as a lean fish. It is easy to digest and is high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Average values per 100 g of edible portion:

. Water 78.94 g
. Proteins 16.16 g
. Fats 2.4 g

100 g silver scabbardfish = 102 kcal

Silver scabbard fish steaks

Highly prized in Spain, where you may have come across it as “Pezcinto”. Two steaks per pack.

Silver Scabbard Fish

A long, thin fierce looking deep-sea fish found as far down as 1000m in both cold and warm waters around the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific.

There are two main species of Scabbard – black and silver – and it is sometimes known as Sabre Fish (and incorrectly as Ribbon Fish or Cutlass Fish).

Much is caught off the island of Madeira using long lines dyed black, where they and the Portuguese know and love it as Espada.

Usually around 1-2kg, Scabbard has soft, delicately flavoured white meat.

It is usually skinned then filleted or steaked and baked, grilled or pan-fried.

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About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
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1 Response to The ‘en garde’ fish – pesce sciabola

  1. Sandy Grushcow says:


    Thanks for the info. I don’t think I have ever tried this fish and I know we don’t have it in North America. Will you make it for me on my next trip to Italy. Thanks for all the great info. Sandy

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