FORGOTTEN FISH Tasty bites without a hook!

White fish were always an integral part of the menu at the Zürichsee (Lake Zurich) as well as other lakes in the Alpine region. Not least to safeguard the fisher profession, we should once again pay tribute to these “forgotten” fish.

A friend who had suddenly discovered his passion for fishing in his mid-20s lost that love after just one summer. Only white fish were biting in Lake Zürich, yet he wasn’t able to have much luck with them and, at most, could only complain about how much of an annoying inconvenience it was to remove the hook from the fish. Ultimately, he would belt out loud the word “Schwale!” (which is the fish’s local Swiss name; in Austria, it is known as Rotfeder or Rotauge, the common “rudd” or “roach”). And indeed from that point on, “Schwale” became one of his favourite swear words. He even claimed that the fish had looked at him mockingly – as if it wanted to say: “What kind of a piper are you?! All you were able to catch was just one of us bony guys!”

Patrick Marxer

“Sustainability begins with short distances,” Patrick Marxer explains. “If I present a dish with ingredients from within ten kilometers, for me that is significant real value. With a tench, which I recently enjoyed in a sandwich, the taste of tuna can be found in every bite.”

Thanks to modern processing methods – the fillets are cut using a special machine – even the white fish bones are no longer a problem. Unfortunately, the resistance of the mind is far more difficult. The luxury department store, Globus, in Zürich, offered in its restaurant in the summer of 2016 various dishes with white fish; it sold these same dishes also in the delicatessen department, but only with modest success. And what about classic gastronomy? Pickled white fish can be found in the best fish restaurant in the canton of Zürich – “Sonne”, in Stäfa, on Lake Zürich; and breaded rudd or roach fish – “Schwalenknusperli” – is available at Fischers Fritz in Zürich, where chef Michel Péclard was one of the first restaurateurs to recognise the value of the fish.

“When customers start asking for more fish from Lake Zurich and prefer a local white fish to an Egli transported over thousands of kilometers, other restaurants will adjust their offer as well. That would help professional fishermen tremendously,” says Marxer, who offers pickled “Schwalen” in the glass and produces “Brachsmen” (bream) burgers also. The burgers – known traditionally in Bavaria and Austria as a fish cake – ensure that every bit of white fish meat remaining after the filleting is used. “The fillets account for about one third of the bream,” Marxer says.

For all of his commitment to the interests of professional fishermen and to sustainability, ultimately Marxer eats white fish for one main reason: “Because they simply taste great.” In addition to fillets fried in butter and drizzled with lemon juice, ragouts are what this culinary artist enjoys most. “The preparation is very simple: All I do is prepare a kind of ratatouille from seasonal vegetables, then reduce this with a dash of white wine and let the bite-size fillet pieces cook gently in the steam.”