They often end up grilled or fried in pieces and then marinated in vinegar, but it is on the Christmas Eve dinner tables that their white and delicate meat is mostly present, according to Central and Southern Italian traditions.
The word “capitoni” derives from the Latin “capito”, which translates into big head, and indicates the female eels who, unlike the maretiche, the female eels that have reached sexual maturity, stay in the warm internal waters, those of rivers, lagoons, lakes and ponds, instead of putting to high seas to return reproducing in the depths of the Atlantic. The skin of the Capitone is thick and very slimy due to the presence of a mucous substance. The belly is silvery and the back is brown-greenish. The appearance is not that inviting, but the meat is white, fatty and of a very delicate taste. In domestic kitchens, eels and Capitone eels are very often destined to be grilled or fried in pieces and then marinated in vinegar (“a scapece”). Having a delicate meat and being quickly perishable, both eels and Capitone eels are commonly sold alive and then put down at home, with no rush, soon before cooking. Italy is still the main European producer and one of the biggest exporters in the rest of Europe too. Italian eels and Capitone eels mainly come from the fishing valleys of the river Po delta, the Orbetello, Lesina and Varano lagoons and in part from Sardinian ponds.
Nutritional information – Capitone is part of the group of fatty fish. However, the share of saturated fat is small. The prevailing part is made of monounsaturates and polyunsaturates, nutritious fats that help with cardiovascular disease prevention. Polyunsaturates, more specifically, play an important role in the reduction of inflammatory processes and allergy risks. The presence of minerals (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and iron) and vitamins (among which vitamin A and D) is also not to be forgotten. Being the Capitone a type of food that is difficult to digest, it is recommended to cook it with a limited use of fats.
Ritual consumption and pairings – The shape that recalls a snake (from Latin anguis, snake), symbol of the original sin, makes the Capitone the sacrificial victim for the Christmas eve dinner. It can also be well enjoyed on St. Stephen’s day, the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), or New Year’s eve. The ritual consumption of Capitone is common in the Center and South of Italy, but the tradition is most of all felt in Naples. According to peasant cooking traditions, when the Capitone is not grilled, it is used for soups with all kinds of vegetables, or it is baked in the oven. Eels are of course good for adding flavour to polenta or rice or for seasoning a plate of pasta. The pairing with cabbage is also very intriguing, a combination made following the needs of poaching anglers who had to cover the smell of fish and hide the activity from the owner of the waters who held the fishing rights.