Friday, May 11, 2012

On The Road - Belém (Pt. 9) - A Very Big Puppy - Filhote

Probably the biggest puppy we ever saw was a two-month-old St. Bernard - it had to have been at least 100 lbs (50 lbs) and it was still a long way from being fully grown. At least he was the biggest puppy we'd ever seen until Flavors of Brazil's recent road trip to Belém, situated near the mouth of the Amazon River system. There we saw a puppy that was about 6 feet long (2 meters), probably weighed over 600 lbs (500 kgs) and instead of being furry and fluffy and cute was wet, slimy and ugly as hell. But it was delicious!

You see, the word for puppy in Portuguese is filhote (filho means son). But in Belém the word isn't applied just to young canines, it is also the name of a very large member of the catfish family, one of the largest fresh-water fishes in the world. This creature's scientific name is Brachyplathystoma filamentosum, and it also bears the alternative name piraíba.
filhote en route to market

This fish exists only in the rivers of the Amazon rain forest. It lives in the deepest parts of the river system, which are very deep indeed, and when caught on a line it puts up a tremendous battle. Fishing for filhote is a favorite activity for sports fishermen from all around the world who come to the Amazon to fish.
filhote at the market

But filhote is caught primarily not because of its value as a sports fish, it's caught for its delicate and delicious flesh. Filhote is one of the favorite eating fish of the region, if not the absolute favorite. Filhote has a clean, clear taste with none of the "muddy" flavors that often mar the flavors of other members of the catfish family. The flesh is a bright white in color and when cooked properly it flakes but doesn't fall apart.

Because the taste of filhote is subtle, most Belenenses prefer to eat it quite simply - to let the taste of the fish shine through. The most common ways to serve this fish are pan-fried, grilled or roasted, lightly seasoned, and without rich sauces. We'll provide a recipe in the next post.

5 comments:

  1. Yum, tasty! Catfish is already really nice and this sounds even better.

    By the way, filhote isn't just for puppies. It can be used for younglings of any number of species but I'm guessing the fish in your picture is already a full grown adult.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I'm aware that filhote isn't restricted to dogs - sort of like the English word pup which can refer to the young of all kinds of animals. It does seem, however, that when talking about fish, filhote does refer to one species - at least in Belem.
      JAMES

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  2. I've already lived in Amazon, most specifically in Manaus, and some people even think I was born there altough I'm from Porto Alegre. The favorite fish in Amazon, as far as I know, are pirarucu, tucunaré (the one that has fake eyes in the tail), tambaqui (the ribs look like pork ribs), jaraqui (usually eaten fried) and Amazonian sardine (looks like a mullet, a saltwater fish that is found from Rio Grande do Sul to Rio de Janeiro altough it's more popular in Santa Catarina). Other ones that are very popular are matrinxã (however I don't remember to have ever eaten this one) and bodó (this one I really never ate). Piranha is also not so unusual to be eaten, usually in soups but also often fried. As a funny note, once I bought some stuffed piranhas as souvenirs to friends and relatives, and a Cocker that used to belong to my mother took one of the piranhas while there was nobody home and started to eat the fish.

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    1. Thanks for all your great comments. I'm dying to visit Manaus and try all those fish you mention in your comment here - some of which I've never heard of before, even in Amazon cookbooks.
      JAMES

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    2. Tambaqui is absolutle the best fish I have ever eaten anywhere. It was roasted like a pig and the ribs reminded me of a pork chop. Filote is not only found in the Amazon basin. There are related fishes (also called filote locally) in the Parana river basin along with Pintado, Cachara, jau and arawana (peacock bass). Most of these fish are of the shovelnosed catfish type and they all provide firm, white delicately flavoured flesh. It the churascurias in Sao Paulo and elsewhere the spit 2 inch chunks of fish on a skewer and roast over very hot charcoal alongside the Beef, Pork and Lamb for which these restaurants are more famous.

      Brasil also has a large saltwater fishery with ribbon fish, grouper, snapper, flounder and hake among the top tasting!The Fish Market at Bertioga on the Litoral Norte in Sao Paulo State is a sight to behold.

      I lived in Brasil for about 6 years and had the opportunity to travel all over the country. I can't remember a meal there that wasn't delicious!

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