Crudo di pesce, an age-old dish common along the Southern Italian seaside but less so in Montreal, is gaining popularity at restaurants across the city.
In its most basic form, crudo di pesce consists of a piece of freshly caught fish or seafood served raw and dressed with olive oil or lemon. In Puglia, it often comes in the form of cuttlefish and anchovies, whereas in Sicily, prawn and squid are most popular. Longstanding family-run restaurant Cafe Gentile added crudo di pesce to its menu in June, after Anthony Gentile dined on the dish on a recent trip to Sicily and decided he wanted to replicate the experience and flavours at his own restaurant. Gentile’s take on crudo is a yellowfin tuna served with chili, toasted hazelnuts, and kale.
“We adapt things as the years go like in modern Italian cuisine, but we like to stay classic,” says Cafe Gentile chef Nelson Maceira. “It’s all about the texture, the fat of the tuna, and the freshness all mixed together.”
According to Gentile, certain other raw fish dishes like tartare can conceal what should be the prime ingredient and flavour of the dish. “It’s like you taste everything but the actual product, and the star of the show has to be the tuna,” he says. “All the ingredients we use have minimal flavours, little bursts, but the tuna is the star attraction.”
Though the Italian take on raw fish may be unfamiliar to some Montreal diners otherwise already well-acquainted with the likes of French tartare and Japanese sashimi, it isn’t new to most Europeans, says Impasto chef Liam Beckett, sitting at the restaurant’s bar in a Calgary Flames T-shirt. From 2011 to 2014, the Saskatchewan native worked in Tuscan kitchens, where crudo is traditionally doused in olive oil, and served with a healthy squeeze of lemon, parsley, a pinch of salt, red onions, and bread to mop up the excess oil and juices. “I have zero Italian blood,” Beckett says. “I just sort of fell in love with Italian cuisine and moved to Italy.”
In the early summer months, Impasto served turbot crudo marinated in tomato water and garnished with a cucumber, mint, and shallot salsa. The idea, Beckett says, was to approach the dish with the mindset of respecting the quality of a few simple ingredients and only hitting a few notes. His latest crudo creation features bluefin tuna served with pistachios, mosto cotto (grape must syrup), and a citrus cauliflower puree.
The dish has proven a hit: While it is not the first summer that Impasto has served raw fish, Beckett says crudo dishes are increasingly reeling in customers and becoming more of a staple on the menu. Some patrons are even inquiring about future crudo dishes the restaurant will serve and requesting lesser-seen cuts of fish, which he says is a change from previous years when patrons sought out dishes like salmon tartare.
And while colder temperatures are drawing near, Impasto says it intends to serve the dish throughout the year. For its part, Cafe Gentile is serving crudo di pesce until November.