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Thursday, December 1, 2011

CHRISTMAS EVE MUST-HAVES - Capitone and Baccala'

At our home, besides other traditional dishes, it’s not Christmas Eve without capitone (eel) and baccalà.  Capitone is for the diehards and fried baccalà for the younger generation.  They refer to the capitone as “gross” and “slimy”.  Did you know that capitone is a female eel so named because its head is bigger than the male ?  The name derives from the Latin “capitonem” which means “with a big head”.

Cut Capitone

Capitone in Salsa di Pomodoro

1 1/2 lb. capitone (eel)
3 garlic cloves
1 peperoncino or hot pepper
1 cup of tomato salsa
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste 


On December 23, I go to my Italian fish monger and, as tradition wants, I bring the eel home alive.  I place it in a large plastic container where it awaits its fatal hour.  In my basement kitchen, I grasp the eel by placing one hand on its neck and the other on the tail as my husband performs the decapitation by one blow on the neck with a cleaver.  I immediately throw away the head and proceed gutting and quickly scrubbing it.  At this point, one may choose to remove the skin.  I leave the skin on and cut it into pieces.

Capitone in Salsa di Pomodoro
All photos - Copyright - ©2011 - La Casa e Il Giardino – picasaweb

As described above, clean, dry and cut the eel into pieces .  In a casserole, add oil, tomato salsa, minced garlic and paprika.  Bring to a boil and then add the eel and 1 cup of water.  Let it evaporate and add the peperoncino, salt and pepper.  Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Let it rest before serving.

Capitone Arrosto
Capitone arrosto

1 1/2 lb. eel
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
4 or 5 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 lemons, zest only

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Rub the capitone pieces with the olive oil and minced garlic and place in a baking dish.  Sprinkle with the lemon zest, salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Add the bay leaves and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes until done, turning once during the cooking process.
  • It is very fat and will roast in its own fat

Baccala' Arrosto
    Baccala' arrosto

    I just love the smell of dry peperoncini burning over the flame of a burner.