Friday, 23 September 2016


Cabracho - scorpionfish

Cabra, gallineta and many more.....

Maybe I should learn to trust my instincts more.  I saw some fish in Ersoski in Santa Pola, labelled Cabra, and assumed them to be scorpionfish, which I had seen on the menu in several local restaurants.  It's a fish with a sweet taste and firm flesh which I had initially eaten several years before at the Zlato Sidra (Golden Anchor) in Lucija, near Portorož, Slovenia, caught fresh from the Adriatic.

I had not come across the name Cabra before, but fish in supermarkets and fishmongers in Spain almost always have a label indicating their scientific name and where and how it was caught. This notification of source (NW Atlantic) confirmed it as Cabracho so I assumed Cabra (which is otherwise goat in Spanish) was a Spanish abbreviation.

Having no access to the internet, I thought I would seek some confirmation from my books, which only added to the confusion.

In a rather old cook book Elizabeth Cass says Cabracho has no translation into Spanish but that it resembles Rascasio and is good baked in the oven.  She describes  Rascasio as an essential ingredient for fish soup.  I have since seen what I thought to be Scorpionfish labelled Gallineta (little chicken) but Dr Cass says this is Sand piper, a fish "resembling Rascasio but greyish in colour and very good cooked in the oven". But the Gallineta I had seen were red - definitely not grey - and looked like Scorpionfish to me.

Perhaps Davidson's Mediterranean Seafood might be clearer (Mediterranean Seafood
Alan Davidson 2002 Prospect Books: ISBN 978-1-903018-94-1) Here he describes Cabracho as Red Scorpionfish (Fr Rascasse rouge) and particularly recommends the cheeks as not unlike lobster. In France, Rascasse is regarded as an essential ingredient in bouillabaisse.

Davidson lists Rascacio as Black scorpion fish and Gallineta as Blue mouth scorpion fish, reddish brown in colour but with the inside of mouth blue.  My Gallineta did not have a blue mouth. It was definitely Cabracho , red scorpionfish!  Davidson describes Gallineta as similar to Redfish, also known as Norwegian haddock, which is found in the Atlantic.

In his book Seafood of Spain & Portugal (The Tio Pepe Guide to the SEAFOOD of SPAIN and PORTUGAL: Alan Davidson 2002 ISBN 84-89954-21-6) Davidson confirms Cabracho is Scorpionfish/rascasse rouge which he says is called Pola de mar (chicken of the sea) in Catalan and he recommends baking whole. He says that rascacio is also scorpionfish, rascasse noire in French but smaller.  According to this book there are two varieties of Gallineta, G.rosado, slender rockfish found in the western Mediterranean and Morocco  (Fr rascasse rose) and Gallineta which, like Dr Cass, he says is Bluemouth which in Gallicia is called Cabra da altura (goat of the deep). Confusingly, the Portuguese use the term Cabra for gurnard

Clearly there are several different varities of scorpionfish, widely distributed in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. If you wish to confirm which fish it is you could consult the scientific name, usually on the label in Spain:

Cabracho - Scorpaena scrofa
Rascacio - S. porcus
Gallineta rosado - S. elongata
Bluemouth - Helicolenus dactylopterus.........

Or not bother and just assume that if it looks like Scorpionfish, it probably is and will taste delicious!
Apart from the fact that common names in Spain seem to be used, interchangeably, for different varieties of fish there is the added confusion of several languages and regional names, which are given in Wikipedia as:

Catalonia escórpora
Cantabria cabracho
Valencia escorpa
Asturias tiñosu
Balearics cap root
Ibiza cap roja
Murcia galling
Cartagena rascasote
Galicia escarapote
Pais Vasco (Basque) krabarroka or itsakabra  (Cabra de mar in Spanish)

Canaries and Andalusia rascacio

Sea chicken, goat of the deep? If it looks like this

it's almost certainly some variety of scorpionfish and I recommend you buy, cook and enjoy.
Baking or poaching is recommended or use in fish stew. I have posted a recipe which I tried in Santa Pola in August 2016.  The spines can be mildly venomous, but can be removed by your fishmonger but if you handle carefully the poison is denatured in cooking and rendered unharmful.

John Austin

August 2016, Santa Pola


Poached scorpionfish - cabracho

We were staying in Santa Pola with family and friends and I decided to oven cook a whole Corvina as it had been such a success the year before with a family gathering.

Whilst I thought that one large Corvina was enough for 6 adults and 4 children (two of whom were not fish fans), my daughter-in-law, Nicole, (rightly as it turned out) thought we needed more. There was Cabracho on the fish counter and I couldn't resist.

Corvina and Cabracho

Most cookery books recommend baking or using in fish stew, so I decided on a compromise and poached in the oven,


Scorpionfish, cleaned weighing about 3/4 -1kg
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 glass white wine
1 cup fish stock/court bouillon
1 lemon and or 1 teaspoon sumac


I made a court bouillon with a small chopped onion gently fried and softened in olive oil, added a stick of celery and some chopped celery leaves and one carrot finely chopped, a large cup of water and brought to the boil and simmered for 20 miniutes.

Place the fish, seasoned inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper, in an ovenproof dish
(I had also sprinkled some sumac over the fish). Pour over the court bouillon and one glass of white wine (or dry sherry or vermouth), Add a splash of olive oil and juice of half a lemon, cover with foil and place in heated oven 160C for about 30-35 minutes.

Before serving squeeze over remaining juice of half lemon.


I served it whole at the table and the top fillets are easy to remove, then the backbone pulls away easily revealing the two fillets underneath.  The fish can be served with the cooking juices. And don't forget the head....

And did the cheeks taste like lobster as the books suggest?  I don't know. One cheek was eagerly devoured by 6 year old Jerome who is a fish lover and the other by 10 year old Leelah who doesn't normally like fish.  When asked what she wanted for dinner the following day, Leelah exclaimed in a loud and enthusiastic voice "Fish cheeks"!

John Austin

August 2016, Santa Pola

Friday, 26 August 2016

JAPUTA (Ray's Bream) Roasted

Whole roast Japuta - (Palometa Negra) Ray's Bream


1 whole Japuta (scaled if you can)
Peel of half a preserved lemon (or thinly pared peel of a fresh lemon)
1 fresh lemon
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or a sprig of fresh
1 clove of garlic


The fishmonger and I tried to scale it as best we could but if roasting the skin forms its own "tin foil" covering.

Make deep diagonal slashes on either side of the fish.  Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and rub skin with tarragon forcing some into each slit.  Put the remaining tarragon in the belly of the fish and insert a thin sliver of lemon peel into each slit.  Put the remaining lemon peel in the belly of the fish with a clove of garlic

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven). Lightly oil a roasting dish with olive oil and lay the fish in. Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.  Cover with foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil (add a little more oil and/or lemon juice if the fish is drying out) and baste with the juices in the dish.  Return to oven and continue cooking uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the skin is crispy and the flesh firm and white.

Remove from oven. Remove the top layer of skin. 
  1. Carefully lift the fish onto a serving plate and pour over the juices from the tin and any remaining lemon juice.
  1. To serve, cut down the middle of the fish from head to tail to the backbone, then release the fillets from the bones on either side of the backbone. Slide a fish slice under the fillets and lift off, then pull the bone from the bottom fillets; divide and serve.
John Austin
Santa Pola, August 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

JAPUTA - Poached whole on the bone

JAPUTA (Palometa negra) RAY's BREAM


One whole Ray's bream, cleaned 
Sprig of fresh thyme
Two cloves of garlic
2 shallots or one small onion chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 glass white wine and equal quantity of water
Half teaspoon fennel seeds
Lemon peel
Splash of Anis Secco (Pastis/Ricard/Pernod)


After a determined effort to descale this fish, weighing just over 1kg, I seasoned the fish, inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper and stuffed the belly with .
a sprig of fresh thyme and garlic and put to one side. 

Use a large saute pan with a lid. Gently fry the chopped onion in just enough olive oil to soften, add the chopped celery and fennel seeds and continue frying gently for a few minutes add the wine and water and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Make deep slashes on either side of the fish and insert slivers of lemon peel into the slashes. I used preserved lemons . : Place the whole fish in the poaching liquid, add a splash of Anis if you like the flavour, put on the lid and poach gently for 30 minutes.

John Austin
Santa Pola, Spain 
August 2015


Palometa negra

I first came across this fish in Carrefour in Elche, looking as if made of steel. It had a bream like appearance but I had no idea what it was and had to consult various books to find out.

I learned that its English name is Ray's bream (although it is not a member of the sea bream family) and is named after the 17th century English naturalist John Ray, but I have never seen it in England. I had also seen a fish in Spain called Palometa blanca which is Spanish for Pompano (palomino or palomète in French).

In Europe, Palometa blanca or pompano is sometimes called Asian or Mediterrranean pomfret.  I haven’t tried it but I have read that the Mediterranean variety are not worth eating so I will probably not bother. To add to confusion, Ray's bream, Palometa negra,  is known as pomfret in N America.

In some parts of Spain, Palometa negra may be known by its Catalan name, Castanyola and similarly castagna in Italy and castagnole In France, where it is sometimes called brème, but in south eastern Spain it is usually sold as Japuta.  Once seen you cannot fail to recognise its distinctive steel-like appearance. 

In August 2015 they had some in Eroski in Santa Pola on offer at 4.95€ per kilo and as my son, Damien and family were staying with me I decided to give it a try.  My Spanish is none too good and I thought the fishmonger was asking if I wanted it skinned.  I said no, just cleaned, which normally includes scaling, so I was surprised when I got home to find that it had not been scaled.  A subsequent effort by Damien and myself, both with scaling tools and the chef's knife proved difficult and only partially successful.  The next time I bought it, in the summer of 2016, I specifically asked for it to be scaled - it was a Herculean task and not very well accomplished and required further effort on my part when I got it into the kitchen.  The scales are as tough as steel and are all strongly linked.

I didn't know anyone who had tried Ray's bream so I sought some advice on Facebook.  I am grateful to Steve Whitelegg for his reply
May 26 at 10:38pm

The post by 'Nepptune', about halfway down this fishing site thread, might be helpful even if you are not intending to cook it on a barbecue

Nepptune confirmed the impenetrable nature of the steely scales

Nepptune View Drop Down


Joined: 29 Nov 2007
Location: South Africa
Status: Offline
Points: 637
We get a ton of those out here off Cape Town too, in the canyons and YFT grounds.... big commercial market for them and marketed as "Angelfish" in Fishmarkets and Restaurants....
Damn good eating.... skin is tough as nails, but acts almost like tin foil on the BBQ.... just lay a fillet skin down on the Barbie, spices and such on the top, and cook with the cover over the BBQ..... skin keeps the whole bunch together, and peels off easy once done...
Alan  Davidson in Tio Pepe says "if you see it on the menu, opt for it".( The Tio Pepe Guide to the SEAFOOD of SPAIN and PORTUGAL
Alan Davidson 2002
ISBN 84-89954-21-6

Recipe books suggest poaching or roasting whole or frying fillets.  I have cooked it whole on two occasions poaching (2015) and roasting (2016) and have published the two methods on this blog.

John Austin
August 2016

Friday, 1 April 2016



Whilst the rise in global temperatures is truly alarming, as recent months have broken all records ( This February was the warmest in recorded history ), I have risked bringing forward my spring planting by a month.

The recommended planting time for my first early potatoes was end of March/April and second earlies April/May, but I planted a row of first earlies at the end of February and a second row at the beginning of March with some second earlies in mid-March. So, either I am looking forward to some very early new potatoes or a total disaster if we see a plummeting of temperature and late frost! 

With the disruption of building work at home, with our loft conversion, the allotment has not seen as much activity as it should but with a bit of help from Luke and Sylvi we have made some progress.

Although our allotment is on the chalky South Downs, we are in a hollow with a heavy layer of clay which is water logged in winter and hard as concrete in summer. 
the view from my patch

Digging in winter is a nightmare as the soil is so heavy and like modelling clay, which is why I have introduced a number of raised beds to which I have added a lot of organic matter - some from the wormery, into which all our kitchen waste goes, and some from the compost bin , together with partially composted lawn clippings and autumn leaves. I think I may need to start a second compost heap of leaves as they take longer to break down.

The area where I have planted potatoes, however, is open ground where I grew broad beans and kale last year.  When the area was cleared in late autumn I did spread some part rotted compost and contents of the wormery on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin over the winter.

We began to remove the tarpaulin, in late January and then gradually, row by row in February/March.

 Around the tarpaulin there was an uncleared area with substantial growth of couch grass which had spread its roots and stems under the tarpaulin to join the indigenous bindweed. 

hidden beneath the tarpaulin!

Clearing the area was a mammoth task, and the challenge now will be to keep it clear with regular weeding.  We are also plagued by dandelions which send down tap roots up to a foot in depth which usually break off as you uproot them which means they will grow again!  Thankfully, I was assisted by Sylvia and Luke in the digging and weeding.  To be fair, we gave Luke some help on his allotment - but quite a different task due to the soil.  Luke,s is fairly light soil and if you dig up couch grass or perennial weeds you can shake them and the soil falls off. On mine the heavy clay adheres and has to be removed by hand in lumps - it;s rather like molding potters' clay.

Having cleared the area we dug a very shallow trench - about 4-6 inches deep in which we planted the chitted seed potatoes and then covered them with some bought general garden potting compost, earthing them up with the soil removed from the trench.

In the last week of February, I planted a ten foot row of First Early Pentland Javelin and in the first week of March a similar row of Arran Pilot - ignoring the instructions that they were to be planted mid to late March.  I followed on in mid March with two rows of second earlies, one of Nicola and the other Charlotte. The recommended planting time for these was late March - April, so now it's fingers crossed!  When I visited the site in the last week of March, the growing tips of the Arran Pilot were showing through.

The Broad beans I had sown in November  ( a double row each of Aquadulce and the Sutton Dwarf) are about 6 - 8 inches high with some obvious gaps which I have filled with re-sowing.  I have also cleared an area next to the potatoes and sown a new double row of the dwarf Sutton and covered with a fleece tunnel.

and before you ask, that's Luke's dog, Kanami

My final act of March on the allotment was to clear one of the raised beds and sow some beetroot (Boltardy) and some Chard before seeking some sunshine in Spain to recharge the batteries before the April sowing season.

On my return I was tempted to start some indoor sowing in seed trays of leeks, cavolo nero, early purple sprouting broccoli, pumpkin and courgettes.  I am also trying out some rainbow chard (Bright Lights) sown in fibre pots in the cold conservatory.  I don't have a greenhouse - and neither does my nephew Bradley (any more); sadly his was taken away by the howling winds of Storm Kate!

On the last day in March, I went just for an inspection and was pleased that my tunnel had survived Storm Kate. I also noticed that the first early potatoes planted in February were just peeping through.

And the shallots - which had been uprooted on several occasions by birds and replanted - were also just coming into growth

And I picked a handful of sprouting broccoli from the last remaining plant - I think I might get one more picking

harvested 31 March 2016
This is quite a contrast from the previous season.  My broccoli has been sprouting since November and is now nearly finished, whereas the crop I sowed in 2014 did not start producing until April 2015 as the picture I posted a year ago on facebook shows

Which brings me back to where this blog started - climate change?

John Austin
1 April 2016, Hove

Saturday, 26 March 2016



Between the gales and sleet and rain, there were a few sunny days.  November was time to prepare the beds for the early sowing of broad beans and we managed two double rows - Aquadulce and Sutton's Dwarf .  They were up in weeks and I gave them some protection with a mulch of bark chippings.  By January they were looking good - I suppose I should have given them some added protection from frost (and the birds) with a fleece covering - noted for next year!
The Aquadulce (left) seem to be doing better than the Sutton's (right)
In November I had dug a trench where I will grow my runner beans

 and have been filling it with kitchen waste. As March approaches it is probably time to fill them in.  Any compostible material can be added, especially shredded newspaper.  Apart from providing nutrients to the soil, the material will aid water retention which is of major importance for growing runner beans.

bean trench filled with kitchen waste

I turned over a patch in November where I intended to grow potatoes and covered it with a tarpaulin - a) to reduce weed growth and b) to warm up the soil.  On a plot with clay soil the task of digging is a hard one especially after a very wet winter.  My allotment is on the South Downs but any thoughts that there might be bands of willing helpers quickly disappeared when the snow came down and there were no offers of help from this lot

Devil's Dyke was clearly a greater attraction and although there was plenty of energy for throwing snowballs, sadly none for digging.

On the odd dry day, I did manage to get to the allotment, but drawing back the tarpaulin revealed that the couch grass and bindweed had appreciated their cosy home underneath and so had to be removed

underneath the tarpaulin

Breaking up the compacted soil was hard work and I did it in two stages.  Firstly I turned it over and then left it to the weather (hoping for some frost to  kill off some of the weeds and bugs) and then enlisted support to dig it over again, carefully removing any couch grass and bindweed and their spreading roots as well as digging out dandelions whose tap roots sometimes go down 10-12 inches. And here's the end result

A big thank you to Sylvia and Luke for helping with the weed removal - their assistance was essential.  We did repay the effort, however, by assisting Luke on his allotment (which, thankfully, isn't clay!)

Thank you Luke!
It's not all gloom and doom.  There were still crops to be harvested. We finished off the beetroots in November but throughout December and January have had a steady supply of leeks, Jerusalem artichokes,chard and kale (cavolo nero) 

We also harvested our purple Brussel sprouts in January - small but beautiful

And in my view, the Brussel tops were even better!

John Austin
February 2016, Hove