[Sca-cooks] Scapece, samak musakbaj ... just something I came across

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Thu Jan 3 12:49:50 PST 2008

On Jan 3, 2008, at 3:20 PM, Christiane wrote:

> Awhile ago, the food writer Charles Perry had told me that the samak  
> musakbaj in the Baghdad Cookery Book and scapece alla Vastese, a  
> preserved fish dish from Abruzzo, were virtually identical.

They seem pretty similar, and both similar to the many late-period,  
early-post-period, and modern dishes known as escabeche, except those  
tend to include onions fried in the oil used to fry the fish, also  
submerged in the final pickle.

> I had wondered how this dish got to Abruzzo; after reading a book  
> about the Muslim colony of Lucera, it became apparent. When the  
> coloby was destroyed in 1300, a large chunk of the enslaved  
> inhabitants were sent to Abruzzo. Some of the inhabitants of Lucera  
> also beat feet to Abruzzo before the going got bad.
> Frederick II also liked scapece; while at the Colloquium of Foggia  
> in March 1240, he ordered the cook there to make him "askipeciam et  
> gelatinum." So, pickled fish in jelly? And early form of gefilte,  
> maybe? ;-)

There's this interesting transposition of consonants we sometimes run  
across in foods when translated between different languages, or  
sometimes perhaps by scribal error, but for example, you've got cloves  
gilofre, cloves girofle, and cloves gillyflower, which sometimes are,  
and sometimes are not, the same thing (but they're generally either  
the spice clove or the clove pink flower, and usually the former). I  
believe I've seen a similar transposition between ascipium and aspic,  
although at the moment I couldn't swear to it.

I guess it's conceivable that the modern term for a savory jelly of  
meat, fish, or wine could be derived from askipeciam, it might also  
simply sound similar and "askipeciam et gelitanum" could simply be an  
unrelated jelly dish.

> In an Italian review of Anna Martelloti's "I ricettari di Federico  
> II" I found mention of another form of scapece from Puglia, which  
> some recipes called "scapece alla Gallipoli." In this case, instead  
> of large pieces of whitefish or hake, fried, and preserved in  
> vinegar and saffron, the fish is small, whole "pupiddi" (any ideas  
> on what these fish are most akin to, let me know), fried, and  
> layered in grated bread soaked in vinegar and saffron, all packed  
> into wooden tubs. The town of Gallipoli was conquered in 900 by the  
> Muslims, but I don't think they held onto it very long.

What we call whitefish in the US is a somewhat fatty, slightly  
gelatinous lake fish with, as the name implies, a white flesh. Hake  
are generally related to cod and whiting, somewhere between the two in  
size. They show up in period sources as "codling", "ling", and "ling  
cod". If you've eaten "scrod" in the Eastern US it was probably hake.  
(If in the western US it was probably pollack.)

> I found some photos of scapece di Gallipoli:
> http://www.mensamagazine.it/articolo.asp?id=854
> http://www.laterradipuglia.it/italiano/secondipesce/scapecedigallipoli.htm
> I can't say that it looks attractive ... and I don't recall any  
> recipes from the Baghdad Cookery Book where the fish is layered in  
> grated bread soaked with vinegar and saffron.

The recipe in Al Baghdadi doesn't include bread, I believe. It's just  
fish fried in sesame oil, spiced, and submerged in vinegar with celery  
leaves, IIRC.

> I'll have to look at the fish recipes in there again. If anyone  
> knows of anything similar to this, please speak up!

Nowadays you can find a lot of recipes for escabeche (and its  
relative, ceviche) which are generally assumed to be Spanish in origin  
(although this is looking to be incorrect). Very common in late-period  
and early-post-period sources, and very popular because it could  
travel well where fresh fish could not. You even find it in some  
English sources with the name mangled in endearing fashion.


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