Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Italy >
Aug 5, 2010 03:37 AM

Can anyone clarify what 'pezzogna' is?

I was recently in Italy, south of Rome, and eating a fish called 'pezzogna' or, in some cases, 'pezzonia'. Here is a picture below. Everywhere we were told that it is a fish only from those waters, but to me it looked remarkably like a straightforward (and delicious) red sea bream (Pagellus bogaraveo). Can anyone shed any light on this?

The picture isn't great as it was low light, no flash and no tripod. Sorry about that!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. maybe fellow chowhound mbfant can help you out here if she sees your post. she is an italian food expert, translator and culinarian guide for rome, with her colleague (and the author of the book), oretta zanini de vita.

    from her chow profile:

    1 Reply
    1. re: alkapal

      Thanks Alkapall. I have sent her an e-mail!

      1. re: Gio

        Many thanks for this Gio. There does seem to be a blue-spotted seabream (Pagrus caeruleostictus) which likes the cold waters of the Gulf of Gabes in the central Mediterranean. I will add this to my on-line food dictionary with next upload. I think that looks pretty conclusive. I saw that link, but was lazy and didn't read on. Thanks for making me do it!

        1. re: Foodlexi

          In the U.S. you might be more familiar with Sheepshead and Scup; these along with Pezzogna are in the Bream family.

      2. Yes, I believe it is Pagellus bogaraveo because of its looks and the alternative name besugo, which is the same as the Spanish for red sea bream. However, I'm sure the taxonomy is insufficient and the subspecies (do I mean subspecies?) requires further identification.

        The pezzogna (yes, delicious), characterized by its large eyes and pink tail, is staunchly attributed to Tyrrhenian waters, particularly Campanian, and until a few years ago was never seen even in Rome, where now it is common on the better fish menus. It thus simply can't be the same red sea bream whose distribution is documented so widely and must be, appunto, a particular variant. The increasingly common translation of blue-spotted sea bream seems to me erroneous.

        8 Replies
        1. re: mbfant

          This is really helpful. Many thanks indeed. I certainly couldn't see any blue spots on my fish anyway. I will try to write something for which encompasses these issues.

          Fish are a *nightmare* everywhere. I always think that those early travellers, often escaping from unforgiving regimes at home in Europe, travelled the world, landing in the US, the Antipodes and Africa and gave, willy nilly, the name they knew for some extraneous flatfish to the first flatfish they saw. Their preoccupations were hardly culinary at that stage! And so we end up with the ghastly confusions over turbot, halibut, flounder and the rest even in English. And then when you start looking at Spanish, French and Italian regional names, goodness, there is a lot of sleep to be lost.

          Thanks everyone for great help with this.

          1. re: Foodlexi

            have you looked at Alan Davidson's book on Mediterranean fish yet? It likely addresses this item. (will check the book this evening also the slowfood fish book) Its a great fish - Ive understood it is a bream fished in deep water in Campania, but have never looked at samples other than cooked on a plate on the Amalfi coast..

            1. re: jen kalb

              I see on Amazon there is a third ed of Davidson. I've been looking all day for my copy of the second, but can't find it, so do let us know what you turn up. I'm pretty sure pezzogna isn’t in the book I have. The fish called fragolino seems to be the same as or very similar to pezzogna, but that huge eye of the pezzogna is unto itself. I don't believe the (many) other breams we get have it. I will certainly notice from now on.

              1. re: mbfant

                I'd already had a go at Alan Davidson. He's usually my first port of call when I am stuck. I live close to where his archives are now and have been given permission to use them if I ever wish. This might be the time! I have found a reference in 'Il Libro del Pesce' by Donatella Nicoló and she does give pezzogna as a Campanian name for Pagellus bogareveo, which brings us round in full circle really. 'Les Poissons de Mer des Pêches Françaises', by Quéro and Vayne, which also has some Italian names of fish, has no mention. And Fishbase seems to have nothing either..... Ny table is now awash with fish books. Which reminds me; I had better go now to buy some to cook tonight! (It's 4.15 pm here.)

                1. re: Foodlexi

                  There's a fairly comprehensive web site devoted to all thing marine and piscine in Italy, though for some reason it does not catalog pezzogna as one of its "amici pesce" under this name. Included some good recipes, coastal news, etc.

                  1. re: bob96

                    Thanks Bob96. I shall have fun exploring that one!

                  2. re: Foodlexi

                    There's some material in the "Il Pesce" volume of the Slowfood Ricette di Osterie di Italia. I am going to quote it below in the Italian.
                    that book has a recipe for Pezzogna from A'Paranza in Atrani in the "Pagello" chapter, Pagello referring apparently to the Sparidi, the seabream family.

                    The slowfood book mentions a few fish in this category - the "fragolino" (Pagellus erythrinus). Called "Pandora," or pagel, pegeau or paget rouge in french (per Davidson) it has a reddish tint

                    the Slowfood goes on to talk about two other fishes as follows:

                    di sapore simile e adatto alle medesime ricette e "l'occhialone" o "occhione" (Pagellus centrodontus per gli esemplari adulti e pagellus bogaraevo per i piu giovani).Lo contraddistinguono, oltre ai grandi occhi, la fronte prominente e una macchia nera che, dietro l'opercolo, interrompe la livrea argentea-rosata. Raggiunge i 600 metri di profundita ed preda frequente degli appassionati di bolentino, una particulare lenza di fondo. Anche il Pagello bastardo (pagellus acarne) ha colore argento-rosa, ma e piu slanciato e presenta una macchia nera alla base della pinna pettorale. Meno pregiato del fragolino e dell'occhialone, e poco adatto all cottura alle griglia perche ha carni alquanto asciutte.

                    Ci pare utile segnalare alcune delle piu diffuse denominazioni dialettali, che spesso non consentono di individure chiaramente le varie tipologie. A rischio di confonderli con i pagri, i toscani chaimano "paraghi" (ma anche "mafroni") tutti i pagelli: in alcune regioni meridionali oltre all'ormai italianizzato "pezzongna" e in use il termine "luvaro" che nella classificazione scentifical indica non uno sparide ma uno sgombroideo, il pesce imperatore. Con il luvaro, nel significato di pagello, e tradizione fare una nonnata (neonata).

                    Returning to Davidson, He identifies a Red/Blackspot Sea Bream with large eyes as "Pagellus bogareveo" called "occhiolone" in Italian, and besugo in Spanish, with a large black spot on the shoulder, and a back that is grey or red-grey. this seems to correspons with the similar description in the Slowfood book above.

                    Davidson also says that younger specimens are also "prettily marked" with blue spots on their backs, which causes some authorities to consider them a separate species, blue spotted bream etc., but this has been cleared up scientifically tho in some languages the younger specimens have different names from the mature (as per, seemingly, the Slowfood discussi0n above)
                    Heres a pic and article about this fish

                    Somewhat confusing the issue, Davidson offers descriptions of three other big-eyed breams , Saddled Sea Bream, which is called occhiata in Italian. This one has a biack band where tail and body come together and is predominantly grey.

                    Couch's sea bream has rosy tints on back and side and alone has white tips to the tail (species pagrus pagrus pagrus), pagro in italian. It is also found in the Americas as red porgy.

                    The dentex (dentex dentex aka dentice) is rosy and also has big eyes and a reddish color in some cases.
                    Davidson says young adults have steel blue backs silver sides and pectoral fins with a rosy tint.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      Jen - This is wonderful. Thanks so much. The Davidson comment about the younger specimens having blue spots is particularly useful as that is what seems to have caused some of the problems. In Frascati, at a rather good restaurant called Nef, they were very determined that their fish was a 'pezzonia' (their spelling). However, it was clearly an adult fish - big and full-bodied - which explains why it had no blue spots.

                      The Italian information is also very useful, though the second paragaph is horrible. As with fish everywhere, different people use different names for the same fish or, worse, the same names for different fish. It doesn't mean, unfortunately, that they are wrong! So in my food dictionary I try to cater for misuse of a name or meaning as well as with the 'proper' meaning. Erk. And who in the end is to say what the 'proper' meaning is, if most people are calling it something different......

                      But it's really nice to tie this fish down as the claim that it is entirely local to Campania increasingly seems to be not the case.

                      By the way, it was *very* good to eat! In most places in Campania and Lazio where I saw it it was being cooked 'in acqua pazza' which I like anyway.

                      Thanks so much for all the help.