Have you heard the saying: "Deafer than the port of Torone”? Chances are, no. Not for sure, if you happen not to live close to the Aegean Sea in South Europe. The proverb came from the ancient Greek city Torone located on the middle branch of the peninsula Chalkidiki in North Greece. The Toronaean harbour was situated between two narrow strips of land and was called “Kophos” (meaning “deaf” in English). According to the Greek historian Strabo (1st century BC - 1st century AD), the specific location of the port prevented the diffusion of the sound of the waves and no noise could be heard around. This fact gave the name of the harbour and later the proverb above was born.
In the Antiquity the gulf between the first and the middle branch of Chalkidiki – where was the city of Torone – was called “Toronaean” (today “Gulf of Kassandra”). It was famous for its generous supplies of fish as well as for the culinary abilities of the people living there to cook tasty seafood. According to the ancient Greek writer Archestratus (4th century BC), that was the best place for eating shark. But who was that person and could we trust his some-twenty-and-more-century-old judgement? Archestratus wrote the didactic poem “Hedypatheia” (Life of luxury) – a gastronomic guide on where to find the best food in the ancient Mediterranean world, especially fish. The poem was considered as a parody of Homer and Hesiod because it was written in hexameter; verse usually used for creating high literature, like epic poetry, and not for such inappropriate subject – culinary. For that fact, Archestratus got a nickname – “Hesiod of gluttons”. Nevertheless, his work was appreciated in Antiquity. Although the book did not survive, the Greek author Athenaeus (end of 2nd and beginning of the 3rth century AD) recorded 62 quotations of it in his “Deipnosophistae” (The Banquet of the Learned). We took the following recipe exactly from there. The culinary realisation of “Toronaean shark” was surprisingly simple but with a very delicious gastronomic result. The recipe calls for salt (expressively mentioned in the original text), cumin, olive oil and aromatic herbs.
Archestratus did not specify which those aromatic herbs were, but we decided that was a good occasion to improvise and to modify the recipe according to our preferences. You can do the same!
We picked some of the most popular Mediterranean ones – oregano, coriander, and parsley. Also, as a stroke of a genius we added some savoury – one of the most aromatic herbs known on the Balkan Peninsula. When it came to the fish, though, at first we ran upon the rocks. Although we live relatively close to the Atlantic Ocean, it was not easy to find a shark in the supermarket. Then Val suggested looking for the closest possible substitute. After minutes of thorough searching, his experienced eyes noticed nice succulent fish steaks with delicate pink coloration. At this moment the choice was made – a swordfish. (For substituting the shark with something more affordable see below *Val’s tips)
For 4 servings:
INGREDIENTS: 500 g /18 oz/ fish 2 tsp olive oil, 2 tsp cumin 2 tsp savoury 1 tsp oregano 1 tsp salt 1 tsp coriander 1 tsp parsley
DIRECTIONS: 1. Mix the salt, the cumin, and the herbs 2. Oil both sides of the steaks with the olive oil and sprinkle the spices on top 3. Grill the steak on medium heat to avoid burning for 7-8 min 4. Turn the steak over and grill the other side for another 7-8 minutes.
And here you are!
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Archestratus claimed that in Torone such fish was usually served with fresh green salad. This is what we did too and that was definitely the perfect combination. Val added some steamed asparagus and thus turned the dish in a real chef-d’oeuvre! The swordfish was tender and juicy. The moderate quantity of spices allowed the taste of the fish to stand out. At the same time, the herbs gave and additional delicate flavour that thoroughly corresponded with the green salad. For our kids (being 5 and 7-year-old), tasting this recipe was a real adventure. They hardly believed that they had A SHARK in their plates! The meal got them back in the time when we lived in Dubai and often visited the Aquarium. There, in a glass tunnel, fish of all kind (among them many sharks) swam around us showing gills, fins, and teeth in front of our widely opened eyes. Only several centimetres apart of our noses. During that lunch, we could see their pride growing with every single bite. Eating SUCH A FISH! Like brave pirates who overpowered a sea monster!
The swordfish, although not in the same group as the shark, has similar meat texture and is an excellent substitute of a shark. Other option is tuna, much more avalable on the markets that the shark. The picture below is the same recipe with tuna.