MEATS AND FISH

Barbel

The barbel (Barbus barbus) is a slender, muscular, long-bodied (up to 35 inches and 15 pounds have been recorded) fish that is native to Europe, ranging as far north as Britain, as far south as Sicily, and as far east as Hungary. Some authorities assert that the barbel is also found in the Sea of Galilee. With a high dorsal fin, it has two pairs of sensory barbels (slender, whisker-like tactile organs) around its lips. These barbels give the fish its name, though other fish such as carp and catfish also have barbels. The fish is golden bronze on top, fading to a creamy white on the belly, with reddish-brown fins. Active mostly at dusk and during the night, the barbel is a bottom-living fish that prefers fast-flowing rivers and streams.

The barbel was a particularly popular eating fish during the early Renaissance era, though it used to be known as the pigfish, so named for the way it roots in riverbeds for food. It is less known now, except in Britain, which has angling societies dedicated exclusively to the barbel, as it is a strong fish that puts up a fierce fight when hooked.

Bass

“Bass' is the common name for a large number of both saltwater and freshwater fishes. These include the black sea bass (Centropristis striata), which ranges along the eastern coast of the United States; the giant sea bass (Stereolepsis gigas), which is native to the coast of California; the Chilean sea bass (Dissostichuseleginoides), which was previously known as the Patagonian toothfish; the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), which inhabits North American rivers east of the Rocky Mountains; the smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu), which is also native to eastern North America; the striped bass (Morone saxitilis), which is sometimes called the rockfish and ranges along the eastern coast of the United States; and the Mediterranean sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), which is native to the Mediterranean Sea and the northeastern Atlantic Ocean but which also ventures into brackish lagoons. All of these bass are good game and fine food.

The Mediterranean sea bass is perhaps the oldest known, having been a favorite in the diet of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Romans referred to it as the “sea wolf,” so known because of its voracity, and it is still called the sea wolf in French, Italian, and German. With firm, white flesh, it is a staple of Mediterranean cuisines. Often grilled or barbecued, it can also be baked, poached, broiled, saute´ed, or steamed.

Sea bass is lower in cholesterol, fat, and calories than freshwater bass. As with most fish, bass is a good source of the B vitamins and vitamin D.

Beef

All domestic cattle (Bos taurus) are descended from Bos primigenius, the aurochs that prehistoric peoples painted onto cave walls. Cattle have long been domesticated and were known in ancient Egypt as early as 3500 b.c.e. and are often mentioned in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:10). The biblical patriarchs measured their wealth in numbers of cattle, and the consumption of beef often indicated special family celebrations. The same was true in ancient Greece, where cattle were so expensive that they were usually slaughtered only to create a special meal to honor dignitaries, heroes, or guests. Beef was the archetypal meat of medieval meals throughout Europe, and even when game was plentiful the inclusion of beef on the menu brought honor to guests and hosts alike. As beef became more affordable, the per capita consumption of beef in Europe continued to explode. By the 19th century, however, the per capita consumption of beef in the Americas surpassed that of Europe, and beef is today the most popular meat in the Americas. In fact, more beef is eaten than any other meat around the globe, despite the fact that religion forbids the eating of beef in India and among Hindu peoples (who consider the cow to be holy) and that it is generally too expensive in places like Japan. More than fifty breeds of cattle are now known throughout the world, and certain regions like Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Europe, and even Japan are well known for the quality of their beef. Farmers have selectively bred cattle to increase their milk production, to improve their strength (so that they make better draft oxen), to make them more resistant to disease, to augment the amount of beef they carry, and to enhance the flavor of their meat.

Beef is a primary source of protein for many people. It is a good source of vitamin B12, calcium, sodium, and phosphorus. Beef has fallen out of favor among some groups because it tends to be high in cholesterol and fat; also, raising cattle requires an enormous expenditure of vegetable energy, and vegetarians say that it would be more healthful and energy efficient for people to raise and eat vegetables directly than to filter the energy through cattle.

The main cuts of beef include brisket (from the front part of the breast), chuck (from the shoulder, arm, and neck), flank (from just behind the belly), foreshank (from the forelegs), rib (from the ribs), round (from the rear hip section), short loin (from the loin area), short plate (from the rear of the breast), sirloin (from between the round and the short loin), and ground beef (from chuck, sirloin, or round). Each cut of beef may be prepared in particular ways, and around the world it has been roasted, broiled, stir-fried, marinated, tenderized, spiced, corned, salted, dried, and even boiled. Indeed, the ways of preparing and eating beef are limited only by the human imagination.

Given the long association between humans and cattle, it is not surprising that cows have taken on particular symbolic meanings. In the Chinese zodiac, people born in the year of the ox are said to be powerful and faithful, exhibiting good leadership traits and positive attitudes toward family and work. In America, a person who is very powerful is said to be “strong like a bull” or “strong as an ox.”

Chicken

The domesticated chicken (Gallus gallus) is a descendant of wild Asian jungle fowl, first domesticated in India about 2000 b.c.e. for use in religious ceremonies and then for consumption. From India, domestication of the chicken spread to China and the Pacific islands and, by 1500 b.c.e., to central Europe. Chickens did not make their way to the eastern Mediterranean until about the 14th century b.c.e., and the earliest representation of a chicken was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, pharaoh of ancient Egypt, dating from about 1350 b.c.e. Assyrian seals of the 8th century b.c.e. portray chickens, as does Corinthian pottery of the 7th century b.c.e., but there is no mention of chickens in the earliest translations of the Old Testament, though it is difficult to believe that the Israelites did not have domesticated chickens since their Egyptian neighbors did. The ancient Greeks and Romans ate lots of chicken eggs (but initially little chicken, as the birds were probably too tough and thin for good eating), and the Romans used chickens for auguries; but by the 2nd century b.c.e. the Romans were eating chicken, having learned from the Greeks on the island of Cos how to fatten poultry for the table. Chicken, especially capons (castrated roosters), were widely consumed in Europe during the Middle Ages. While Christopher Columbus probably introduced chickens to the Caribbean, they did not appear in North America until imported by the settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth in the 17th century. Today, chickens are raised almost everywhere in the world; of the domesticated animals, only the dog has a larger range. Chickens are the most common birds in the world, and their population tops the 25 billion mark.

Across the centuries, hundreds of varieties of chickens have been developed through selective breeding. Among the most common breeds are the Barred Rock, Barred Plymouth Rock, Cochin, Cornish, Leghorn, Red Cap, Rhode Island Red, Sussex, and Swiss Hen.

Chicken is an extremely versatile meat that can be broiled, fried, deep-fried, stir-fried, roasted, stewed, poached, steamed, and baked. It can also be used in soups and salads, can be added to pizzas, and is even processed into fast-food “chicken nuggets.”

Compared with other meats, chicken is relatively low in cholesterol. It is low in fat unless eaten with the skin, and its dark meat has more fat and cholesterol than the light meat. Chicken provides vitamins B6 and B12, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and zinc.

In recent years, animal-rights activists have protested the conditions under which most chickens are raised and have recommended that chickens not be raised in cages, pens, or coops but be allowed to range freely in large yards and scratch for their own food. This said, free-range chickens are no more nutritional than other chickens and are no less prone to salmonella contamination.

Given the long association between humans and chickens, it is not surprising that chickens have taken on certain symbolic meanings. In the Chinese zodiac, people born in the year of the rooster are said to be hard working and definite in their opinions.

Duck

“Duck” is the common name for a large number of birds, both wild and domesticated, of the Anatidae family (a family that also includes geese and swans). Mostly aquatic birds, ducks thrive in both salt- and fresh-water environments and can be classified into subfamilies as follows:

  • Whistling ducks (Dendrocygninae)
  • White-backed ducks (Thalassorninae)
  • Freckled ducks (Stictonettinae)
  • Shelducks, sheldgeese, and steamer ducks (Tadorninae)
  • Dabbling and diving ducks (Anatinae), which include the wood ducks, widgeons,
  • gadwalls, teals, pintails, mallards, shovelers, and mandarins
  • Eiders, scoters, sawbills, and sea ducks (Merginae), which include harlequin ducks, goldeneyes, and mergansers
  • Stiff-tail ducks (Oxyurinae), which include black-headed ducks

Ducks entered domestication relatively late, as wild ducks have been plentiful and easily hunted throughout human history—up until quite recently, anyway— and many people who enjoy eating duck prefer the taste of wild birds to that of domesticated ducks. The ancient Egyptians included duck in their diet long before they came to eat chicken, though these birds were probably wild. The Romans held ducks in net enclosures until they were needed for the table, but these again were probably captured in the wild. The ancient Chinese may have been the first to domesticate ducks—they were the first to artificially incubate duck eggs— though it might have been the Incas or the Aztecs who first accomplished this. Eating duck was popular in medieval and Renaissance Europe; duck was very inexpensive in Elizabethan England, but it is not certain that ducks were yet domesticated. In North America, ducks do not seem to have been domesticated until the end of the 19th century, when an entrepreneur imported several Peking ducks, the ancestors of millions of America's domestic ducks, now generally known as the white Pekin or Long Island duck.

Among the most flavorful ducks for the table are the gadwalls of England, the Rouens and Nantais of France, the Pekins of the United States, and the teals, mallards, pintails, widgeons, and canvasbacks internationally.

Duck is generally high in calories, fat, and cholesterol. It does provide significant amounts of vitamins B6 and B12, copper, vitamin E, iron, niacin, phosphorous, riboflavin, thiamin, and zinc. Duck may be roasted, broiled, and grilled or may be stuffed or marinated before cooking. As most of the duck fat resides in the skin, it should be removed before eating (but after cooking).

Duck eggs are also delicious, prepared as any other eggs, and ducks provide feathers and down for many domestic products.

Goat

Native to much of Eurasia and Africa, goats were among the first domesticated animals, probably coming under human care in the mountains of Iran as early as 8000 b.c.e. at about the same time as sheep. In the wild, goats thrive in difficult conditions, from arid scrublands to cold and rocky mountain regions, and it was easy for early nomadic herders to care for herds of goats. The recognized species of goats include:

  • Wild goat (Capra aegagrus), of which the domestic goat is a subspecies (C. aegagrus hircus) and the Angora goat (from which mohair is taken) is a variety
  • West Caucasian tur (C. caucasia)
  • East Caucasian tur (C. cylindricomis)
  • Cashmere goat (C. hircus)
  • Markhor (C. falconeri), of which there are 4 subspecies
  • Alpine ibex (C. ibex), of which the Nubian ibex and the Asiatic ibex are subspecies
  • Spanish ibex (C. pyrenaica), of which the Pyrennean and Portuguese ibex are subspecies
  • Walia ibex (C. walie)

From earliest times, even before domestication, humans hunted or trapped goats for their skins and meat. After domestication, people also began to milk the nanny (female) goats, using the milk as a beverage and as the base for cheeses and other milk products. Goat hair, such as that from cashmere and Angora goats, has been spun into thread or yarn and used to make sweaters, hats, gloves, and other items. Goat skins have been tanned and made into gloves and other clothes and have even been used as wine or water containers and as writing parchment. People still consume goat's milk and meat, though more commonly in the developing world than in the developed. Confusion sometimes results because some peoples refer to goat's meat as “mutton” or “lamb,” words more frequently used for sheep's or lamb's meat. Over the centuries, livestock herders have selectively bred varieties of goats for specific purposes: for their meat, their milk, their wool, and as pets.

Goat's meat, sometimes known as chevon, is thought by some to be like veal and by others like venison, though as with other animals, the age of the goat often determines the flavor and texture. Goat's meat is comparable to chicken in its fat and cholesterol content and is definitely healthier than mutton. People have been stewing, baking, grilling, barbecuing, mincing, canning, and stuffing goat's meat for millennia, and there is an incredible variety of recipes for goat's meat from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Certain cultures even consider goats' brains, livers, heads, and legs as delicacies. Because the meat can sometimes be tough, tenderizing and marinating can make it even more delectable.

Goat's milk has long been known to be more easily digested by humans than cow's milk, and infants usually do much better with goat's milk than cow's. The reason is that goat's milk has much smaller curd and lacks the protein agglutinin present in cow's milk. An average dairy doe (female) can produce about 6 pounds of milk per day. Goat's milk does not have an offensive flavor, though sometimes the scent from the billy goats can rub off on the nannies and taint the milk.

As with sheep, goats do not need to be killed in order to have their wool harvested but can be sheared, in the case of Angora goats, or combed, in the case of cashmeres. The cashmere goat has been selectively bred so that its coat consists of a higher proportion of the fine, soft fibers that grow close to the skin and a much lower proportion of guard hairs. The Angora goat has been bred to grow long, curling locks of mohair, with no guard hairs. Although a single goat produces less wool than a single sheep, goat's wool is warmer than sheep's and is not scratchy or allergenic.

Intelligent and curious, goats sometimes seem individualistic and do make lively pets, but they are also suitable herding animals. Contrary to myth, goats do not eat everything they encounter; they do tend to chew on almost anything, but they consume weeds and shrubs and almost any plant.

Because of their long association with human society, a large body of folklore has developed around goats. In Norse mythology, goats pulled the chariot of Thor, the god of thunder; though he would eat them at night, they reappeared each morning. The twelve-year Chinese zodiac features the goat (or sheep) as one of its annual symbolic animals; people born in the year of the goat are said to be creative, perfectionist, and introverted. In the Western zodiacal system, the sign of Capricorn is a goat with a fish's tail. Goats are frequently mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 15:9, 38:17; Numbers 15:27; etc.).

Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, Christians linked goats with the devil, believing that goats spoke lewd thoughts into the ears of saintly people, and the devil was often portrayed with the face of a goat, horns, and a “goatee.” Black masses were thought to center on dark-colored goats, believed to be manifestations of Satan. Even today, some Christians believe the pentagram, the symbol of Wicca, depicts a goat's head and thus indicates (erroneously) a connection between Wicca and Satanism.

Herring

Herring include the two hundred or so species of the Clupea genus of fish. Most are native to the northern Atlantic Ocean, though some species inhabit the Baltic Sea. The most common are the Atlantic (or English) herring (C. harengus), which can reach a length of 18 inches and a weight of 1.5 pounds, and which are found from the northern limits of the Atlantic as far south as France and the Chesapeake Bay. The Pacific herring (C. pallasi) is common from Siberia to Japan and from Alaska to northern Mexico; some biologists consider the Pacific herring to be the same fish as the Atlantic species.

Prehistoric peoples of northern Europe fished for and ate herring either raw or cooked. Perhaps as early as the 3rd century b.c.e., herring began to be fermented, pickled, or otherwise cured for longer storage. Although herring does not air dry as well as cod, having too much oily fat, it does respond deliciously to smoking, and smoked herring became a luxury of the European diet by the 12th century c.e. and a staple of the diet of the poorer classes by the 13th. People also began salting herring to preserve it. Herring was perhaps the main product that led to the fortunes of the Hanseatic League, an alliance that monopolized trade in northern Europe and the Baltic region between the 13th and 17th centuries. The French were the first to grow wealthy on herring fishery, in the 12th century, followed by the Danes in the 13th–14th, the Dutch in the 15th, and the English in the 17th. Although the English continue to maintain a lead in herring fishing today, many fishery experts believe that herring has been overfished and may not be far behind cod in being nearly fished out.

Among the fishes, herring is relatively high in calories, fat, and cholesterol. The ways of preparing herring for consumption have not changed much over the centuries. Pickled herring, very popular in Scandinavia, is made by cutting the fish into fillets and placing them in a solution of vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorn, bay leaves, and raw onions. Some variations on herring preparation include the Dutch maatjes (“little girls') herring, which are made from immature herring cured lightly in sugar; the German Bismarck herring, which is pickled in vinegar with onions; English kippers (split or filleted herring) and bloaters (whole herring), which are salted and smoked cold; and German-Jewish schmaltz (fat) herring, which is served in sour cream sauce. Some cooks make rollmops from pickled herring, wrapping the fish around a piece of pickled cucumber; traditionally, rollmops were made of raw herring fillets encasing shallots, capers, and gherkins, then immersed in a solution of wine vinegar, mustard seed, and peppercorns. Herring can also be used to make soup, can be fermented to make the Swedish surstro¨mming, and can be canned for much longer shelf life.

Lamb

“Lamb” is sometimes used to refer to the meat of both young sheep and young goats, but most often, “lamb” means the meat of young sheep; “mutton” is the word used for the meat of mature sheep. Domestic sheep (Ovis aries) are the most numerous mammalian livestock in the world, probably descended from the wild moufflon (sometimes called urial; O. orientalis) of south-central and southwestern Asia or from the European moufflon (O. musimon) of Sardinia, Corsica, and western Asia, especially Turkey and southern Iran; domestic sheep may also be a hybrid of these moufflons or a hybrid with other species. Domestication of sheep occurred so long ago (approximately 8000 b.c.e.) that there are no historic records, so scientists have been looking to the new science of DNA analysis to slowly piece together the lineage of the domestic sheep. Other species of sheep, such as the following,may also have contributed to the genetic makeup of the modern domestic sheep:

  • Argali (O. ammon)
  • Bighorn sheep (O. Canadensis)
  • Thinhorn sheep (O. dalli)
  • Snow sheep (O. nivicola)

Over the centuries, sheepherders have selectively bred their sheep for particular purposes, developing breeds that are sheared for their wool, breeds that are eaten, and breeds that provide both wool and meat. Among the breeds raised for their wool are the Merino, Rambouillet, and Lincoln. Those raised for meat include the Suffolk, Hampshire, Dorset, Columbia, and Texel. One dual-use breed is the Corriedale. Certain sheep are also raised for their milk, which serves as a beverage and as the raw material for sheep's cheese and yogurt. In general, raising sheep is a highly efficient endeavor, for a single sheep can return up to 400 percent on investment. Today, sheepherding is extremely important economically in Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, and Sardinia and is significant economically in England, Wales, Ireland, and the United States.

Lamb's meat, from animals that are less than a year old, is generally considered a tender delicacy and appears frequently in recipes from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and southern Asia. Lamb is very high in vitamin B12, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and zinc and provides significant amounts of vitamin B6, folacin, potassium, and thiamin. Generally high in calories and cholesterol, lamb is also high in protein. Mutton, which is much less available in the developed world than lamb, has a stronger flavor but can be tougher and fattier.

To prepare lamb for cooking, the fat should be trimmed off. Otherwise, there is no need for tenderizing, as the meat is naturally tender. Roasting, grilling, and broiling are favorite methods of cooking lamb, although poaching and braising or stewing are common. Lamb can also be used in soups and curries, and ground lamb sometimes substitutes for ground beef or turkey. Many different herbs and spices are used to add flavoring, as are marinades, depending on the cultural background of the cooks who prepare it.

Because of the sheep's long association with human society, a large body of folklore has developed around them. Sheepherding is important both historically and symbolically in Judaism and Christianity. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds. The Jewish Passover meal features lamb as the main course, and the Jewish prophets tell of the wolf and the lamb lying together peacefully in the Promised Land (Isaiah 11:6). Christians refer to Christ as the Good Shepherd and as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Orthodox Christians prepare a meal of Paschal lamb for Easter. In the Chinese zodiac, the sheep (or goat) is associated with artistic and introverted personality traits. In the Western zodiacal system, the sign of Aries is a ram (male sheep).

Sheep are more intelligent than most would believe. Sheep do, however, possess strong flocking behavior. Such behavior benefits nonpredatory animals, as the strongest individuals force their way to the center of the flock and there find greater protection from predators.

Locust

The name “locust” refers to the swarming phase of grasshoppers of the Acrididae family. Briefly, short-horned grasshoppers are locusts when they form into large swarms and completely consume and destroy the vegetation of an area. There are several species, the most widespread being the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), which is native to northern Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. It migrates across vast distances and is most probably the locust species said to have swarmed across Egypt during the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh to convince the ruler of Egypt to let the Israelites go free (Exodus 10:4).

Many cultures around the world consider grasshoppers and other insects as delicacies of the palate. Grasshoppers can be washed and roasted until they are crispy. They can then be ground into flour, which is used in baking; cut into pieces; or eaten whole. Grasshoppers provide calcium, iron, and some protein.

Mackerel

As with many fishes, “mackerel” is the common name that can refer to a large number of species that live in all tropical and temperate oceans and bays. These include the Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic Spanish mackerel, blue mackerel, broadbarred king mackerel, chub mackerel, Australian spotted mackerel, double-lined mackerel, Indian mackerel, Indo-Pacific king mackerel, Island mackerel, Japanese-Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, streaked Spanish mackerel, and spotted Spanish mackerel of the Scombridae family; the Atlantic horse mackerel, blue jack mackerel, Cape horse mackerel, Cunene horse mackerel, greenback horse mackerel, Japanese horse mackerel, Mediterranean horse mackerel, and jack mackerel of the Trachuridae family; the Okhostk Atka mackerel and Atka mackerel of the Hexagrammidae family; the black snake mackerel, blacksail snake mackerel, snake mackerel, violet snake mackerel, and white snake mackerel of the Gempylidae family; and additional species known simply as mackerel, such as bigeye scad, blue runner, butterfly kingfish, cero, and leatherjack.

The king mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla) is the largest species, growing to a length of 5 feet or more. It inhabits the subtropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and is silver-to-gray in color with green and purple iridescence. All mackerels are slim, cylindrical fish with razor-sharp teeth that feed on smaller fish and squid. They are prized for their tasty meat and their fighting ability and are important commercial and game fish.

Generally, mackerel is very high in calories and fat and high in cholesterol, potassium, phosphorous, and vitamins D and B12. It is an oily fish, with an outer layer of red meat and a lighter interior meat. Mackerel spoils very quickly, so shoppers must carefully select the freshest fish. Mackerel is usually poached, baked, or broiled, and a citrus or vinegar marinade helps temper the richness of its taste. It is also salted, smoked, canned, and frozen for longer shelf-life.

It is possible that the ocean-going peoples of the Bible were familiar with mackerel. Mackerel remains have been discovered in Stone Age archaeological sites (such as those at Site #3 in present-day Kuwait), and the ancient Romans prized a certain seasoning, garum, sometimes made from decomposing mackerel.

Mullet

There are two fish families that have come to be known as mullet: the red mullet, of the genus Mullus, and the gray mullet, of the genus Mugil. Some biologists consider the gray mullet to be the only true mullet; others refer to both families as mullets.

The red mullet family consists of about forty species, most of which are native to the Indo-Pacific tropics and subtropics, but two of which inhabit the Mediterranean. The most important of these latter, the striped mullet (Mullus surmuletus), also ranges into the Atlantic Ocean as far north as England. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans thought red mullet a fine fish: the Greeks dedicated it to Hecate, goddess of witchcraft and magic, but the Romans esteemed it so highly that it became a priceless commodity, and a single fish was known to sell for the same price as four yoke of oxen. Red mullet are generally considered much tastier than gray, with dry, firm, flaky flesh and a gamey taste.

The gray mullet family consists of about one hundred species, which inhabit most of the world's tropical and temperate waters. Remarkably, many gray mullet can move easily from salt to fresh water and back. Larger than the red, the gray mullet can reach 12 pounds in weight and is flavorful, with white, light flesh.

Mullet is delicious when baked, broiled, grilled, and saute´ed. Among the fishes, it has a fair number of calories and a relatively high level of cholesterol.

Perch

The perch is a freshwater fish that is somewhat bony but quite prized for its delectable flavor. There are three species: the yellow perch (Perca flavescens), native to North America; the river or European perch (P. fluviatilis), which is found in Europe and northern Asia; and the Balkhash perch (P. schrenkii), which inhabits Lakes Balkhash and Alakol in Kazakhstan. Yellow perch can grow to 10 inches in length and can weigh up to 2 pounds, somewhat smaller than their relatives, which can reach lengths of 23 inches and weigh in at 5 pounds.

Humans have been fishing for and eating perch since prehistory, and both the Gauls and the ancient Romans highly esteemed the fish. In the Middle Ages, when feudal lords and monasteries owned the fishing rights to most inland waters, perch were not readily accessible to the general population in Europe, but when fishing became open again, common anglers avidly sought perch by line and by net. In North America, Native Americans took advantage of the availability of yellow perch, which are relatively easy to catch, because they travel in schools when young and become solitary only when they are older.

Perch have firm, flaky-white flesh that, compared with that of other fish, is low in calories but very high in cholesterol. Preparation includes saute´eing, baking, broiling, and poaching.

Quail

“Quail” is a collective name referring to a number of small- to mid-size birds, often in the Pheasant family, and are usually divided into Old World (Europe, the Middle East, and Asia) and New World (the Americas) quail. The common quail (Coturnix coturnix) is the best known of the Old World species, though there are at least another dozen related birds. In the Americas, the favorite is the northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), but another thirty-some species are also commonly referred to as quail.

In general, quail are not migratory birds, and they prefer to run from danger rather than fly away. Consequently, they do not have the dark meat associated with strong-flying birds but instead have large, white-fleshed muscles that have more flavor than those of barnyard birds. Nowadays, quail are not commonly found on the table but are much appreciated when they are, and quail eggs are prized as a delicacy and are often used in making sushi.

Quail are important in the story of the Israelites' escape from Egypt. As related in the book of Exodus (16:1–16), God sent quail in the evening and manna in the morning to keep the people from starving in the desert. The story told in the book of Numbers (11:4–34) is slightly different: although the quail appeared as promised, God became angry with the greed of the people and struck them with a deadly plague before they could even finish their meal.

Although the Israelites would not have known, there may be a natural explanation for why so many of them died while eating quail: the birds find the seeds of certain poisonous plants, such as hemlock, a delicious treat, and while the poison does not hurt the quail, it can remain in their tissues for a time and can be swiftly fatal to anyone who eats the flesh while it is still contaminated.

St. Peter's Fish

St. Peter's fish is usually known as tilapia, of which there are more than a dozen species. The species usually referred to as St. Peter's fish is Tilapia galilaea, which according to tradition is the fish Jesus used in the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13–22; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:8–13). Other traditions hold that the miraculous draught of fishes referred to in the New Testament (John 21:6) is tilapia, which have a habit of gathering in immense schools in the early morning. Also known as the Wonder Fish (for biblical reasons) and the Nile perch (because the ancient Egyptians recorded tilapia aquaculture [fish farming]), St. Peter's fish have a long and important history in human cuisine and have been taken from their native African/Middle Eastern habitat and introduced around the world.

Vegetarians themselves, tilapia convert a greater proportion of their feed into growth than most other fish species and so grow very rapidly. Native to warm waters, they can thrive in salt, brackish, or fresh water and are very disease resistant. They also reproduce year-round.

Tilapia are a high source of protein with an excellent flavor.

A relative of St. Peter's fish, the Taiwan tilapia (a hybrid of the Mozambique [T. mossambica] and the Nile [T. nilotica] varieties), was the first fish sent into outer space, selected by NASA scientists because of the species' hardiness.

Sardine

“Sardine” is a name used to refer to any of a number of small oily fish, and the use of the name varies from region to region. Some people consider the European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) to be the true sardine; others, the herring. Among those fishes also called sardines are the rainbow sardine (Dussumieria acuta) and slender rainbow sardine (D. elopsoides), the slender white sardine (Escualosa elongata) and white sardine (E. thoracata), the round sardinella (also known as the gilt sardine or Spanish sardine: Sardinella aurita), and the South American pilchard (also known as the Pacific sardine, the California sardine, the Chilean sardine, and the South African sardine: Sardinops sagax). In common usage, “sardines' are any fish that is available in tins.

Sausage

The word “sausage” refers to any mixture of ground-up meat and other animal parts, herbs, and spices, stuffed into a casing (often the intestines of animals) and preserved. The making of sausage perhaps dates from the time of ancient Sumeria (3000 b.c.e.), and the Odyssey (c. 8th century b.c.e.) mentions a type of blood sausage. The Chinese were recording the making of sausage by the 6th century b.c.e., and sausage was a popular dish for the ancient Roman Lupercalia Festival. The early Roman Catholic Church banned the festival and made sausage-eating a sin, so Emperor Constantine (4th century c.e.) outlawed the making of sausages. Yet sausages never really disappeared, as they are an efficient way of preparing the edible but not necessarily attractive parts of animals.

In the United States, sausages are usually classified as cooked, cooked-smoked, fresh-smoked, fresh, or dry. Hot dogs, wieners, kielbasa, mortadella, braunschweiger, pepperoni, and salami are all types of sausages. Today, cellulose, collagen, and even plastic are often used instead of intestinal casings.

Sea Bass

Sea basses are the saltwater varieties of the bass fishes. See bass.

Sole

As with many of the fishes, there is great confusion in the naming of the flatfishes, of which the soles are a family. Some people refer to flounders as soles, and vice versa. It may be simpler to refer to them all as flatfishes, with flounders and soles being of different families.

The flatfish constitute the order Pleuronectiformes, and their name comes from the Greek word for “side-swimmers,” for that is just what they are: these fish have evolved to lie flat on the ocean bottom, hiding or sometimes burying themselves in the sand or debris. Some species lie on their left side, some on their right, and others are not particular. During development, the eye on the “bottom” side migrates to the other side so that both eyes are located on the “top” side of the mature fish; simultaneously, the mouth distorts itself so that most of its opening ends up on the “bottom” side. Many of the flatfishes can change color to blend in with their environment. Among the more than four hundred species of flatfish are such important food fishes as turbot, plaice, halibut, the Dover sole, and, of course, flounder and other types of sole. In general, the soles belong to the suborder Soleoidei (the families are Soleidae, Achiridae, and Cynoglossidae), and the flounders to the suborder Pleuronectoidei (the families are Citharidae, Scophthalmidae, Bothidae, Pleuronectidae, Paralichthyidae, Achiropsettidae, and Samaridae).

Flounders live in the oceans of northern Europe and eastern North America and along the coasts of the northern Pacific Ocean. The common flounder is Platichthys flesus. Other types of flounder include the summer flounder (also called fluke: Platichthys dentatus), the winter flounder (also called blackback, rusty brown, or red-spotted flounder: Pseudopleuronectes americanus), the yellowtail flounder (also called rusty dab: Limanda ferruginea), the dab (or sand dab: Hippoglossoides platessoides), the dusky olive southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigmus), the Gulf flounder (Platichthys albiguttus), the gray sole (Glytocephalus cynoglossus), and the naked sole (Gymnarchirus williamsoni). Growing to about 15 inches in length, flounder feed on mussels, insects, and the spawn of other fish. Extremely low in fat and calories, though average in cholesterol, flounder can be broiled, saute´ed, stuffed, baked, or steamed. Sometimes flounder is sold mistakenly as lemon sole, gray sole, petrale sole, rex sole, or Dover sole.

True soles inhabit both salt and fresh water, eating small crustaceans and other invertebrates. The true Dover sole is Solea solea.

Halibuts (of the genus Hippoglossus), which are native to the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic Oceans, are among the largest of the flatfishes and can often reach lengths of 8 feet and weights of 500 pounds, though specimens of 12 feet and 700 pounds have been caught; they feed on octopi, crabs, salmon, and lampreys. In the Pacific, H. stenolepis is a common halibut. Halibut fillets are delicious poached, baked, broiled, or saute´ed. Among the fishes, halibut are about average in their caloric and cholesterol content but are low in fat.

Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) are fish of the North and Irish Seas. The preferred fish for making fish and chips, they are often classed with the flounders.

If one is confused about what to use when a recipe calls for sole (or flounder, halibut, turbot, or plaice), take heart: the tastes of all of these fish are very similar, mild to bland in general, with the ability to pick up the flavors of the foods with which they are cooked.

Sunfish

“Sunfish” is the common name for a very large number of unrelated fishes. There are the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), a pelagic (oceangoing) fish, the largest bony fish in the world; the moonfishes (order Perciformes), which include about 40 percent of all fish; the common sunfishes of the Lepomis genus, which are freshwater fishes; and the opah, of the Lampris genus. The opah are the sunfish thought to have possibly been part of the diet of certain oceangoing peoples of the Bible.

The opah—which are also known as kingfish, Jerusalem haddock, and moonfish (yes, it is confusing)—are oceangoing and occur in two species: L. guttatus, which may grow to a length of 6 feet or more and reach 200 pounds; and L. immaculatus, which is smaller, reaching about 3 feet in length. The smaller opah resides in the southern hemisphere; the larger ranges around the world's major oceans, primarily in the northern hemisphere, and the Mediterranean.

Opah are thin and disc-shaped fish with a steely blue body grading to lighter blue on the belly, with white spots on the sides and reddish fins. Generally solitary, they feed on deep-ocean squid and smaller fish. In turn, they are eaten by great white and mako sharks.

Opah is often prepared for sashimi (a type of sushi). It is also baked, broiled, poached, steamed, and smoked and has a moderate, pleasant flavor.

Trout

“Trout” is the common name for a number of species of freshwater fish of the Salmon family. These include the Adriatic, brown, Marmorata, flathead, ohrid, and sevan trout of the Salmo genus; the Apache, cutthroat, Gila, golden, and rainbow trout of the Oncorhynchus genus; and the brook, bull, Dolly Varden, lake, and silver trout of the Salvelinus genus. Trout inhabit cool, clear streams and lakes and are native to North America, Europe, and northern Asia. They have been introduced to Australia and other regions. Trout may have been known to the peoples of the Bible as they are present today in the Hermon River; the ancient Romans probably encountered trout in Gaul, the Germanic lands, and the British Isles. Of course, trout were an important staple of the Native North American peoples. Some trout spend their adult lives in the ocean and return to their birth streams to spawn (lay eggs) and die. Because of heavy recreational fishing, trout are now often raised in farms and released into the most popular fishing streams.

Trout can vary from 1 foot to 3 feet in length, and the largest can weigh up to 60 pounds. They are somewhat bony but very tasty, and recreational anglers highly prize trout because of the fierce fight they exhibit. Fly fishing is the preferred method of trout fishing for recreational anglers.

Trout can be relatively high in calories and cholesterol. They are very rich in vitamin B12 and contain large amounts of niacin, phosphorous, vitamin B6, and sodium. Often broiled, they are also tasty when poached, steamed, and smoked.

Tuna

As with many fish, the name “tuna” is the common name for a number of species of large saltwater fish. In general, tuna are fast-swimming fish; to help them achieve their speed, their blood has the capacity to carry more oxygen than that of other fish, and this capacity gives tuna its pink flesh (the flesh of most ocean fish is white). Some larger tuna species can increase their blood temperature above that of the surrounding water through fast swimming, and a few tuna species are even warm-blooded; but they do prefer colder waters. Tuna also need to swim to survive, to keep their blood oxygenated by moving large amounts of water past their gills; some tuna can even achieve speeds of 45 miles per hour.

The most common species of tuna are:

  • Bluefin, which includes northern bluefin (Thunnus thynnus), southern bluefin (T. maccoyii), and Pacific bluefin (T. orientalis). The northern bluefin is native to the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and is often found in the Black Sea. It is a very important food fish and is also cultivated off the coast of Japan for sushi. It can reach 6 feet or more in length and 1,100 pounds in weight; the largest ever recorded was 1,500 pounds. These fish can live up to thirty years; they don't start to reproduce until five years of age and don't reach full reproductive maturity until they are thirteen or fourteen years old. The fastest swimmers, bluefin tuna have the reddest flesh and are sometimes referred to as the red tuna. Overfishing has endangered the populations of bluefin tunas as smaller and younger fish are being taken and fewer are reaching reproductive maturity.
  • Yellowfin (T. albacares). This tuna can weigh up to 45 pounds and is often called the light-meat tuna.
  • Albacore (also known as the long-finned albacore, the white tuna, and the germon: T. alalunga). This tuna inhabits both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Albacore can reach lengths of 4 feet and weights of 65 pounds. It is the only tuna that can be labeled as white meat.
  • Bigeye
  • Longtail (T. tonggol)

    Other fish that are also called “tuna” include:

  • Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), which is also a light-meat tuna and grows to 3 feet and 15 pounds. It prefers open ocean and rarely enters the Mediterranean.
  • Slender tuna (Allothunnus fallai)
  • Bullet tuna (Auxis rochei rochei)
  • Frigate tuna (Auxis thazard thazard)
  • Kawakawa (also known as little tuna or mackerel tuna: Euthynnus affinis)
  • Little tunny (also known as little tuna: E. alletteratus), which has markings on its back that look like writing—thus its binomial. It can grow to 3 feet in length.
  • Butterfly kingfish (also known as butterfly tuna: Gasterochisma melampus)
  • Dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor)

Humans have been catching and eating tuna since prehistoric times, and tuna bones have been found in European archaeological sites dating from before the Iron Age (c. 4000 b.c.e.). The ancient Greeks honored tuna and dedicated it to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Both the wealthy and the poor ate tuna, the former having flavored it with spices and herbs, the latter having purchased it salted, as it was the least expensive fish available. The Greeks also preserved tuna in oil, as modern canneries often do today. Tuna was a favorite of the ancient Romans, for whom the fish's fermented intestines were used to make a delectable seasoning called garum (which could also be made from mackerel). During the Middle Ages, herring and cod supplanted tuna in the common diet, and consumption of tuna remained below that of herring and cod until quite recently, when the fisheries of the latter began to give out and tuna began to fill the increasing demand for fish.

In general, tuna is high in calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol; it also provides significant amounts of potassium, vitamin A, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

In the developed world, tuna is available fresh, frozen, and canned (either in oil or in water). Canned tuna is easily made into tuna salads, with the addition of mayonnaise or yogurt and fruit juices and spices. Fresh or frozen tuna can be grilled, broiled, barbecued, baked, or even fried; added to salads; made into chowders or fish stews; or used in a fish dip.

Because tuna are predators and are high in the ocean's food chain, certain heavy metals (such as mercury) can accumulate in their flesh; consequently, women who are pregnant or nursing and children are often advised to avoid tuna.

Turkey

There are two species of turkeys, and both are natives of the Americas: the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is indigenous to North America and probably originated in Mexico; the ocellated turkey (M. ocellata) is native to Central America. The Mayan people of Central America probably domesticated the ocellated turkey by about 1000 b.c.e. The Aztecs, who came to prominence in Mexico in the 14th century c.e., may have domesticated the wild turkey, or these turkeys may have been domesticated by earlier civilizations. At any rate, the modern domesticated turkey is descended from the wild turkey, whose range now spreads from Mexico north and east to the Atlantic Coast of New England. Wild turkeys live in flocks in open forests; they may grow to 4 feet in height and 30 pounds in weight; the males have a very distinctive fan-shaped tail and a so-called beard. The English colonists in Massachusetts and Virginia probably never had to think about domesticating turkeys themselves, as the woods were full of wild birds easily trapped, snared, or shot. Spanish colonists probably brought turkeys to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century, and the birds were soon known in France, England, and Germany. Turkey would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible. Surprisingly, the English mistakenly believed that the birds actually came from the land known as Turkey; and nearly everyone else in Europe thought that turkeys came from India. Consequently, many European languages, as well as Arabic and Hebrew, came to refer to the turkey as the bird of India.

According to American folklore, the pilgrims feasted on turkey at the first Thanksgiving meal. Some historians dispute the inclusion of turkey on that menu. Nevertheless, turkey has become the traditional centerpiece of most U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations. The turkey became so quickly integrated into U.S. culture that Benjamin Franklin proposed it as the national symbol, proclaiming it to be a much nobler bird than the eagle. Turkey is also a traditional food of modern Purim celebrations.

Though there are still wild turkeys in North America, and though they have made a remarkable recovery in the last few decades, having been hunted or chased from their habitat to near extinction, most turkeys that now make their way to the dinner table come from turkey farms. Turkeys are raised for their meat, though even into the 1920s and 1930s most turkeys were raised for their feathers. Native Americans had prized turkey plumage as ornamentation, and European immigrants coveted the feathers for pillows, comforters, mattresses, and other bedding. Turkey feathers were also made into feather dusters.

Turkey flesh is extremely low in fat and calories; almost all the fat is located in the skin. Turkey meat is an excellent source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, iron, zinc, riboflavin, and magnesium. Nowadays, turkeys are classified according to how they can be prepared:

  • Fryers/roasters are small (5 to 9 pounds) and are slaughtered when young and tender; they can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
  • Hens (females) are medium-sized (8 to 18 pounds) and can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
  • Toms (males) are slightly larger, up to 24 pounds, and can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
  • Mature hens or toms are older turkeys (older than about 8 months) and can be stewed or poached.
  • Turkey parts are sections of the turkey, such as breasts, breast steaks, cutlets, tenderloins, thighs, drumsticks, and wings.
  • Ground turkey can be used in place of ground beef, though it may require more seasoning.

Many turkeys are sold frozen, for extended storage. Once thawed, turkey should be cooked within twenty-four hours. Turkeys are often stuffed before cooking with bread, rice, nuts, fruit, meat, or other stuffings; these should be added just before cooking, and it is important that the stuffing (as well as the turkey itself) cooks thoroughly, to destroy any bacteria that may have migrated into the stuffing from the raw turkey. Cooked turkey will store in the refrigerator for up to four days, or it can be frozen for later consumption.

Veal

Veal is any cut of meat taken from very young calves of domestic cattle (Bos taurus). Although veal is extremely tender and tasty, the confined living conditions and slaughter of the young animals have caused a number of people to label the eating of veal as cruel and disrespectful of cattle.

Venison

Strictly speaking, venison is the meat of deer (Cervidae family), but in culinary terms, venison can actually mean the meat of any type of mammalian game (such as moose, elk, caribou, and antelope). Of course, the peoples of the Bible would not have come into contact with moose, elk, caribou, or whitetail deer, but antelope (such as ibex [Capra genus], oryx [Oryx genus], and gazelles [Gazella genus]) and certain deer (such as red deer [Cervus elaphus] and fallow deer [Dama dama]) were plentiful in the Middle East and were hunted and prepared for the table.

The tenderest venison comes from young male deer, with the loin and ribs the tastiest cuts. Marinating the meat can help mask some of the gamy taste. Roasting and broiling are the preferred methods of cooking, though venison stews and sauces are also delicious. Venison is generally low in calories, cholesterol, and fat and high in copper, iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, and zinc.