Italian Language Blog

Capitone Fritto Posted by on Dec 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

In Southern Italy the most traditional dish eaten for il cenone di Natale (Christmas eve meal) is il capitone fritto (fried eel). Despite the masculine name, il capitone is actually a fully mature female eel, which is much bigger than the male. The name capitone comes from the word ‘capa‘ (capo in Italian), meaning ‘head’ in Neapolitan dialect. Hence capitone literally means ‘big head’.

Caption by Geoff 😉

But why on earth would you want to eat eel for Christmas?

Bella domanda!

Well, an eel is similar to a snake, no? And the snake represents Evil in Christian iconography. Hence eating an eel on the eve of Jesus’ birth symbolises the victory of Good over Evil. Nowadays, as with many other ancient traditions, this symbolism has been more or less forgotten, but nevertheless, eating capitone is considered to bring good luck … unless you happen to be an eel …

So, do you fancy trying something a bit different this Christmas? Would you like to amaze (or disgust) your Christmas guests?

Ecco la ricetta!

Ingredienti: 2 capitoni da 600 gr l’uno; 100 gr di farina bianca e 50 gr di farina gialla; olio per frittura; sale.
Ingredients: 2 eels, about 600 grams each; 100 grams of plain flour and 50 grams of maize flour; oil for frying; salt.

Warning, eels should be cooked within a few hours of dying!

Traditionally housewives used to buy their eels alive and keep them in the sink or bath until the moment they had to cook them! Now, eels are very slippery, and can jump quite high, so it wasn’t uncommon to see the whole family running around the house trying to catch these slippery fugitives. Today most people aren’t too keen on carrying out this gruesome task, and will take the far less unpleasant option of ordering their eels from their local fishmonger, having them killed and gutted, and then collecting them shortly before preparing the dish.

Here’s how to make il capitone fritto:

Cut heads and tails off the eels, but don’t remove their skins, then divide them into 6 cm long pieces. Put these pieces in a colander, and rinse them thoroughly under cold running water.
Mix the two flours together and coat the pieces of eels with this mixture.
Pour the oil in a deep frying pan and bring it to a high temperature. When the oil is very hot, put a few pieces in it and let them cook, turning them frequently. It will take them about ten minutes to cooked all the way through.
Put the fried eels on kitchen paper to absorb the oil and sprinkle them with salt.
Serve il capitone fritto warm together with a salad of your choice.

The day after …

If there’s any leftover capitone, put it in a dish, and dress it with some white vinegar and a couple of broken up bay leaves. Keep in the fridge or a cool place and serve cold.

Vegetarian version:

As above, but without the eel …..

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