Sgombro and Sugarello: Mackerel and Horse Mackerel

Sgombro and sugarello, or mackerel and horse mackerel, are two oily fish, “pesci azzurri”, of the Mediterranean Sea. Forming an essential part of the Mediterranean diet for millennia, they are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. When we first tasted Testa Conserve preserved sgombro and sugarello, the delicate flavor and complete lack of bitter or metallic qualities blew our mind. But what makes them so delicious?

First of all: the place of origin. These fish come from the waters surrounding the Aeolian Islands. They are not farmed, they are wild-caught by the Testa family and their crew and immediately transported to the mainland. On the southernmost point of Sicily, in the fishing village of Portopalo di Capopassero, the Testas have their small canning laboratory, where the fresh fish is processed. From sea to table, Testa Conserve’s fish are never frozen!

Sicilian tinned fish Testa conserve pescatori nel Mediterraneo

Once at Portopalo, the fish are filleted and then steamed. Cooking the fillets with steam not only better maintains their texture, but also maximizes flavor and nutrition. Finally, the plump fillets are hand-packed into each jar and topped off with organic Sicilian extra virgin olive oil. That’s it! Fresh fish and EVOO. This is a rarity in the world of preserved fish. So don’t toss the oil: use it to flavor pastas, dressings, marinades, or whatever your heart desires.

Sicilian tinned fish Testa conserve pescatori nel Mediterraneo

Sgombro vs. Sugarello

Most of us have heard of mackerel, a flavorful and nutritious fish abundant in Mediterranean waters. Aboard the Futura Prima, Captain Pippo Testa looks for the “stummu ucchiutu”, or “the mackerel with the large eyes” that are at least 25cm (9.8 in) long. These fish are softer and fattier on the palate, making them ideal for preservation.

Sugarello, on the other hand, is less common. Known as “sauru tunnu” in Sicilian – from the Italian word “tondo”, given its round shape – Captain Pippo describes them as “un pesce della memoria”, or a fish of memory. Historically, fishermen reserved sugarello for themselves and their families. Captain Pippo testifies:

“Sugarello represents for me a memory of when I was little, when food was a ritual: once upon a time, after fishing, we went home and lit the coal, cleaned the fish with care and patience from its bones and ate it with a drizzle of oil.”

Smaller and leaner than sgombro, sugarello’s slender shape means they’re more suitable to processing. But despite their thinner layer of fat, sugarello is no less tasty! In fact, you could say this fish is a hidden gem of Sicilian cuisine. Once a delicacy reserved for fishermen only, Testa Conserve hopes to help bring this Sicilian specialty to more and more tables.