There are several locally caught fish that Majorcans adore above all others. Some are caught all year round and others are seasonal.
A Majorcan website did a poll a few years ago to find out the favourite fish netted in Majorcan waters. The top four were: ‘cap roig’, ‘raor’, ‘moll’ and ‘llampuga’.
The ‘cap roig’, is called scorpion fish in English.
The ‘raor’ (cleaver wrasse) is the most multi-coloured fish at the market and therefore the prettiest. More importantly it is also the most expensive fish at Palma’s Mercat de l’Olivar and this year it was selling at €70 a kilo.
The ‘moll’ is the red mullet and is a perennial favourite with Majorcans who prefer it grilled or pan-fried and flavoured with leaf fennel.
The ‘llampuga’ (dolphin fish) is a migratory fish that comes to Majorca in August and stays until about November or until the sea starts to get too cold for it. Then it heads back to the African coast.
It wasn’t a surprise that the ‘cap roig’ topped this website poll because it is a superb fish. The ‘roig’ part of the name is pronounced ‘rotch’ and means red. The ‘cap’ word means head, so ‘cap roig’ is the redhead of Majorcan waters.
You will find this fish on the menu of all specialist restaurants and it is always available at the Mercat de l’Olivar and at fish markets across the island. It’s an expensive fish at the market with the price fluctuating between €18-€39 a kilo depending on availability and the size: the bigger ones are always dearer.
A good way of trying ‘cap roig’ is to get one at one of the markets, ask the fishmonger to prepare it ‘a la espalda’ (butterflied).
The ‘cap roig’ has long been a symbol of all that is good in the Mediterranean, but it wasn’t always as highly rated as it is today and it didn’t command the prices we now have to pay. In some parts of the country it wasn’t even used in local cooking although it was available.
The ‘raor’, number two on the list of Majorcans’ famous four from the sea, is the island’s most protected fish. It has a strict open season from September to March and there are restrictions on the number of fish that can be caught daily per licence and also the times when people can go out to catch them. The rules are stringently enforced by the local authorities to protect the ‘raor’ from over fishing.
As fishing for ’raors’ is a slow hit-and-miss affair, the professionals find they aren’t economically viable despite the sky-high prices they can fetch. It’s mainly keen amateurs with their own boats who go after the ‘raors’.
Restaurants specialising in fish manage to find a few suppliers (some have their own boats) but large amounts of ‘raors’ are never available and they are usually the dearest fish on the menu.
The ‘raor’ has silky smooth flesh and overcooking would ruin it. Some cooks leave their scales in place to protect the delicate flesh from the high temperature of the oil. In that case the skin of the fried ‘raor’ is carefully scraped off with a knife and discarded. They must go from the frying pan to the table. Buy those of medium size (avoid any that are very small) and allow at least three per person as a starter you’ll never forget.
The third of Majorcans’ famous four is the moll (red mullet), available all year round but it at its best from May to August, so it is a favourite summer fish.
Majorcans have always been especially fond of red mullet and they are always available at the main markets and supermarkets. They are also an essential item on the menus of specialist restaurants.
There are two kinds of red mullet: ‘salmonete de roca’, because it inhabits areas with pebbled seabeds. The other is known as ‘salmonete de fango’ because it is found on muddy seabeds.
The ‘roca’ red mullets have a firmer flesh and a better taste. They are easy to pick out at the market: bright crimson in colour and with a card announcing they are ‘salmonetes de roca’. They are also dearer.
Red mullet are ideal for busy housewives and novice cooks because it is one of the easiest fish to deal with in the kitchen: its taste is so delicate it requires the simplest cooking methods.
It is best when grilled or pan-fried. It doesn’t need embellishments of any kind but its subtle flavour can take complementary herbs. Leaf fennel is especially suitable and so is basil. And for a taste sensation that is different and memorable, try them with a touch of fresh rosemary.
The fishmonger will descale and gut the fish but ask for the liver (hígado) to remain intact because it has a lovely flavour. Have it with a platter of seasonal veggies a la plancha.
The ‘llampuga’ is a blue fish that needs warm waters to survive, so it always follows the sun. Its marine meanderings bring it to the Mediterranean in August and it spawns while here. But when the sea temperature starts to drop in November the ‘llampuga’ swims back to warmer waters off the coast of Africa.
Majorcans are extremely fond of ‘llampuga’ and everyone looks forward to its summer visit. The favourite recipe is ‘llampuga amb pebres’: thick slices floured and fried to a golden colour and served with slivers of roasted red peppers.
There are many other fish in the sea and Majorcans like most of them. For the names of some of these fish and how they are cooked, see ‘Quick glance at a Majorcan menu’.
For more information visit www.mallorca.es