This article first appeared on The Circle on 21 October, 2018.
Photos by Rachel Zammit Cutajar
The feast of Santa Marija on the 15th August marks the start of the lampuki season, however it is not until this late summer and the beginning of autumn they are abundant.
The lampuka, or dorado, spawns in Cyprus and migrates past Malta between mid-August and December after which it makes it way across the Atlantic, all the way to the Americas, where it is known as mahi-mahi. I learned of the fishes migration patterns when I was asked to make a traditional Maltese lampuki pie on American television. Worrying about how I was to transport the fish all that way the US and keep it fresh enough to make a decent pie, I asked my fishmonger what was the best way to do this. He did some research and found out the fish was available on that side of the world, just under a different name. I managed to find mahi-mahi when I arrived and cooked the freshest pie on American television.
There are many ways to cook this delicate white fish, cut into chunks, fried and served with a piquant sauce, filleted and cooked in lemon and butter, and best of all made into a lampuki pie.
I make it every October for my husband John’s birthday enjoying it with friends and family in the garden. It’s not just John that looks forward to his birthday, but many of our friends too. After one such evening, our good friend, Professor Peter Vassallo sent me this wonderful poem.
Piers the poet doth hereby recount the wondrous marvel that befell him in the bower of bliss while celebrating the day of birth of his good friend Sir John on the 10th day of October of the third millennium.
That enchantress Philippa Mattei
Hath stolen my poor heart away.
Ah woe betide – in a garden fair,
In such congenial atmosphere,
With broth divine of fishes made
She played her wondrous serenade.
Upon my sense and my mind
And in the dim light of the moon,
Methought I was about to swoon
But the strangest marvel of it all,
Which I now tremble to recall,
Was when she brought that wondrous pie
Before his Lordship’s roving eye;
She said it was a fairy child
That she begat in fancy wild
The fairest pie that e’er was seen –
Woven of spinach and of coryphene –
Ye gods above! I have to say,
It truly took my breath away.
At every taste and every bite
My heart did flutter with delight,
I staggered home at break of dawn,
A man half-crazed and half-forlorn.
· 500g puff or shortcrust pastry
· 1 ½ kilo or 2 large, fresh lampuki
· Flour for coating
· 2 onions, sliced
· 1 handful peas, cooked
· 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
· 1 small cauliflower or broccoli, parboiled
· 1kg fresh spinach or 500g frozen, cooked and drained
· 2 carrots, cooked
· 2 tbsp tomato puree
· 2 tbsp capers
· 2 tbsp sultanas
· 6 black olives, pitted and chopped
· 1 tbsp parsley
· 1 tbsp mint
· 1 tbsp basil
· 1 lemon, zest only
· 1 tsp mixed spice
· Olive oil
· Salt and pepper
1. Cut the fish into portions, discarding heads and tails.
2. Dip in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper.
3. Heat some oil and shallow fry until they are cooked through.
4. Allow the fish to cool enough to be able to handle it.
5. Remove all the skin and bones carefully and cut up into bite-sized pieces. Put these aside.
6. Fry the sliced onions in olive oil until they become soft and transparent then add the peeled chopped tomatoes and cook for one min.
7. Add the cooked, chopped cauliflower, the cooked chopped spinach, carrots and the peas.
8. Add a small amount of water and simmer until all the vegetables are tender.
9. At this stage, add the lemon zest, olives, herbs, spice, tomato puree, sultanas, and capers.
10. Season and allow to simmer another 5 mins.
11. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
12. Roll out the pastry and line a shallow round, square or rectangular oven dish remembering to keep one third of the pastry for the top of the pie.
13. Take half of the vegetable mixture and spread out on top of the pastry base.
14. Then place the fried lampuki pieces evenly over all the vegetables, and finish off by spreading the remaining vegetables as a top layer over the fish.
15. Roll out the remaining pastry and place over the top sealing the edges well.
16. Prick all over the pastry lid with a fork.
17. Bake in a hot oven 200°C for 15 mins, then lower the heat to moderate, 180°C, and cook further until the pastry is golden brown.
18. Allow the pie to settle before slicing and serve it warm.
Lampuki fillets in butter and lemon
· 1 lampuki fillet per person, ask your fishmonger to fillet it
· 50g butter per fillet
· 2 tbsp good olive oil (per fillet)
· ½ lemon (per fillet)
· Handful parsley
· Salt and pepper
1. In a large fry pan melt some butter with a drizzle of olive oil.
2. Put the prepared fillets into the pan and fry for 5 mins, skin side down, with a cover on the frying pan.
3. Open the lid, turn the fillets over and season with pepper and salt, a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.
4. Replace the lid, cook another 5 mins.
Lampuki with tomato, caper piquant sauce
· 1 medium-sized lampuka
Tomato Caper Piquant Sauce
· 1kg pulpy tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
· 4 tbsp tomato paste (kunserva)
· 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
· Handful basil leaves, torn, not chopped
· 4 tbsp olive oil
· Salt and pepper
· 500g marrows (qarabaghli)
· 2 tbsp capers
· 2 tbsp sugar
· 2 tbsp vinegar
1. Remove the head and tail and then cut the remainder of the fish into large portions.
2. Roll in seasoned flour, then fry in olive oil till well-cooked (when the flesh comes off the bone easily and there is no blood).
3. To make the sauce, fry finely sliced marrows in a little oil and drain on absorbent paper and set aside.
4. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic, salt and pepper, and fry until the garlic turns golden.
5. Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste and cook on low heat until sauce has thickened.
6. Add the torn basil leaves.
7. Add the fried marrow slices, capers, sugar and vinegar, mix well over low heat for 1 min.
8. Take off heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
9. Test for seasoning and serve alongside the fish.
Like these recipes? Get more of Pippa Mattei’s recipes in her cookbooks 25 Years In A Maltese Kitchen which has also been translated into Maltese and Pippa's Festa available at Agenda book stores or click here for Pippa's Festa and here for 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen. Published by Miranda Publishers.