Our cousins from the Veneto were visiting us this past week. Mirna and Marika live in the Northern Italian city of Fossalto di Portogruaro. Once protected by the Venetian Republic, Portogruaro continues to retain the charm of a favored child. The canals, medieval arcades and stone bridges of Portogruaro remind you of a miniature version of Venice. You know you are in the terre dei Doge because the ancient influence of the Venetian empire is still felt in the local gastronomy, wine and architecture of the region. So for their first trip to the United States, I wanted to show them a little bit of Americana which resulted in me learning about the Ugliest Fish in Italy.
After an afternoon spent in the Indiana farmland of Shipshewana eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy and shoofly pie, I wanted to show our Italian cousins another part of America. So after a trip to a cheese factory and shopping for Amish quilts we got back on the road and stopped for dinner at the Islamorada Fish Company. The restaurant would be the perfect place to introduce them to the Margaritaville of the Florida Keys, if not in body at least in soul. There is a 13,000 gallon salt water fish tank in the restaurant bar with an island vibe and a menu that includes regional Floridian specialties including Key Lime Pie and hand breaded wild caught alligator.Nothing like that in Italy! The cousins loved it especially the coda di alligatore; alligator tail. They said it tasted like, you guessed it, . . . chicken. Although Italians don’t eat alligator tails, they do like to eat the tail of what many call, the ugliest fish in Italy, the Rana Pescatrice or Coda di Rospo, also known as anglerfish or monkfish.
This translates as Fishing Frog and Toad’s Tail , respectively and because of the extreme unattractiveness of this fish many fishmongers skin them and sell just the tail ends. My Italian cousins tell me that the meat is very good. It is firm, white and mildly sweet and in fact tastes just like . . . alligator.