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Peix Sec, the authentic flavour of Formentera

June 2019 | Trends | Gastronomy | Ibiza

Dried fish is an exquisite product of Formentera which is made using traditional craft methods. Peix Sec is the only company that markets it shredded, bottled and preserved in olive oil, ready to eat.
  • David Sánchez on his boat | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Strips of fish drying in the sun | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Sunset in Formentera | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Varadero Boathouses | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Artisanal fishing | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Llaüt, traditional boat | © Javier Sánchez Martínez
  • Sunset in Formentera | © Javier Sánchez Martínez

Photo | Javier Sánchez Martínez

 

In geological terms Formentera is a calcareous rock with poor soil which, combined with sparse rainfall, is only suited to dry farming crops and obstinate trees like figs. So, as on most Mediterranean islands, the inhabitants have had to be farmers, livestock owners, wine-producers and fishermen all at the same time – all on a small scale – and work hard and use a great deal of imagination in order to obtain food from a somewhat ungenerous region. 

Their herculean effort and creativity have shaped a cuisine that is austere and above all, of a farmhouse nature, something that can now be applied to all that is authentic on the island as a synonym of traditional. The bread and wine are farmhouse products, as is the dish that embodies the essence of local gastronomy, both wise and poor: the farmhouse salad, the most characteristic ingredient of which is the exquisite dried fish or peix sec, which is shredded and mixed with the remaining ingredients. 

Barely sixty years ago, all of the fishermen on Formentera dried the fish they could not sell to be able to use and enjoy it for months. After cleaning it, they would leave it to dry, hanging from the branches of the dry savin juniper trees often found beside the sea, so that the sun and the sea breeze would do part of the work. Today, David Sánchez is the only fisherman on the island to market the dried, salted fish preserved in olive oil, ready for consumption. A few years ago, he decided to abandon the construction sector to become a fisherman, and every day – if weather and sea permit – he goes out on board a wooden llaüt, or lateen sail vessel measuring around 7.5 metres in length, setting off from the port of La Savina. He fishes sustainably, using artisanal coastal gear to catch squid, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, lobsters and the highly-prized raors or pearly razorfish — which are eaten grilled or in a light batter —, catches he sells to restaurants and fishmongers’. The smaller specimens are returned live to the sea.

In winter months, when there is no demand from tourists, David mostly spends his time making dried fish. To prepare it, he only uses cartilaginous species without scales, like skate, smooth-hound or dogfish. When they arrive in port, he transfers the fish to the workshop, where the pieces are frozen for at least 48 hours. Afterwards they are skinned, placed in brine and left to dry in the sun for 3 to 7 days, depending on factors like the intensity of the sunshine, the heat or humidity. Next the fish is toasted, shredded and placed in glass jars with olive oil. Bottled like this, the dried fish is preserved for months. It has a consistent texture, is rich in cartilage and smells and tastes like the sea. 

The idea of bottling dried fish came from David and another fisherman, who realised that a product so characteristic of Formentera was not available to everyone. Now the product has crossed the borders of the island itself and even entered haute cuisine, as many chefs have found it to be an ingredient that enables them to unleash their imagination and prepare unique dishes. The family business Peix Sec manufactures around 4.000 jars a year, which are sold in shops in Formentera, Ibiza, Madrid and Barcelona, but which are also distributed online via their website. 

This food is a clear example of how a good traditional product can be successfully commercialised, guaranteeing its survival. Characteristics that have earned it the Ark of Taste designation by the Slow Food organisation, a genuine guarantee for consumers. The only ingredients used to make peix sec are fish, salt, olive oil and the sun and breeze of the island. It can be eaten as an ingredient of the pagesa salad — with a dressing of the olive oil impregnated with the aroma of the dried fish —, or used to prepare pizzas, croquettes or canapés, like the one that combines it with toast and a raw purée of spring onion, small red peppers and tomato. 

David remembers that his grandfather used to take him fishing, and would afterwards “hang up the strips of fish on some rods, high enough so that the cats couldn’t reach it. But I could”. He loves his profession: “If I had to choose, I would be born on Formentera again and become a fisherman again”, and he represents the handing of the local fishing fleet down the generations. The fleet is small but sufficient: three boats known as de bou or bottom trawlers, and around twenty llaüts, traditional Mediterranean lateen sail vessels which now work with diesel engines. 

The products of the sea bring an air of luxury to the gastronomy of Formentera. A cuisine that lives on in homes and restaurants, and which evolved on the sidelines of trends and sophistications, with dishes like the farmhouse salad, a faithful evocation of the flavour of the island’s land and sea.


Farmhouse salad
This simple, nutritious dish is made with boiled potato, tomato, green pepper, roasted red pepper, onion, olive oil and two genuine ingredients: bescuit — bread which has been baked twice, on sale in the bakeries of the Pitiusa islands – and dried fish. To prepare it, place the diced potato and the finely chopped green pepper and onion in a bowl, along with the red pepper in strips and shredded dried fish. Next, break up the bescuit, wrap in a cloth and put under a running tap in order to dampen it, and add to the rest of the ingredients. Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper and douse generously with virgin olive oil.


From Ibiza to Formentera
A holiday on Ibiza is not complete without a trip to Formentera. Both islands are perfectly communicated by sea: several passenger boats a day leave from the port of Ibiza for La Savina, Formentera’s main harbour. The passage, which lasts about 30 minutes, is a pleasant voyage through the strait of Freus which offers an exceptional vision of the islands. In La Savina, you will find several agencies which rent vehicles like bicycles, motorbikes and electric vehicles: boats leave from the port for the beach of Illetes and the islet of S’Espalmador — two essential visits —, and there are buses which stop at the main towns and beaches of Formentera.    


Further information:
www.peixsec.com

 

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