Cappon Magro is a delicious and special dish from Liguria with fish and vegetables. It is on the menu in Liguria for special occasions such as the holidays. The name means “lean capon”, which indicates that it was an alternative if you could not afford an actual capon (which is a neutered and fattened rooster) for the holidays.
The dish consists of stacked layers of fish, vegetables, and Ligurian salsa verde (a green saus made from parsley, pine nuts, capers, green olives, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, and vinegar), garnished with seafood such as shrimp, mussels, or vongole. The dish is served on a galletta del marinaio, the Ligurian version of ship’s biscuits (that is however not baked twice). The type of fish and vegetables are not prescribed, so you can create your own version. For the sauce I’ve used the recipe of my Italian blogging friend Paola.
Traditionally, the fish is poached and the vegetables are blanched. The drawback of that is that it will render the fish dry and a large part of the flavor of both fish and vegetables will end up being thrown out with the cooking water. By cooking both fish and vegetables sous vide, the fish will remain juicy, and both fish and vegetables will retain their flavor much better. I’ve also cooked the shrimp and eggs for the salsa verde sous vide for better flavor and texture.
Cappon Magro can be served as a large dish or in individual portions. The latter is a bit more work to put together, but it looks great and is much easier to serve. A large Cappon will fall apart when you try to cut into it, so it will only look pretty until you serve it. Cappon Magro is usually served as a secondo piatto in Italy, but it is also very suitable to be served as antipasto. Because it is served cold, it is perfect for a special occasion (like the holidays), as it can be prepared completely in advance. In fact, it is even better for the development of the flavors to make it at least several hours before serving rather than making it at the last minute.
Gallette del marinaio are not available in stores outside of Liguria, but you could bake your own or substitute with crostini (Italian bread that is brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven). Or you could just omit it, because as far as I’m concerned it is not vital to the success of the dish. I took the trouble to bake my own galette del marinaio, but I didn’t think it was worth the effort and it can be tricky to get the texture right.
Serves 4 as antipasto
For the salsa verde
75 grams (3 oz) flat leaf parsley, big stems removed
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 Tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1 Tbsp pine nuts
5 green olives, pitted
2 1/2 anchovy fillets
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar witte wijnazijn
60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
For the cappon magro
250 grams (.55 lb) European sea bass fillets (branzino) (with or without skin) (or other firm white fish)
4 thick slices of beet of 6 cm (2.5″) diameter
enough thick slices of carrot to make 4 round layers with a diameter of 6 cm (2.5″)
enough cauliflower florets to make 4 round layers with a diameter of 6 cm (2.5″)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeeze lemon juice
(the photo also shows green beans, but I ended up not using those)
Cook the egg sous vide for 1 hour at 74C/165F and allow to cool in cold water.
Peel the egg and place in the jar of a blender with all the other ingredients for the salsa verde.
Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Cover and allow the flavors to develop in the refrigerator.
Season the sea bass with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then brush it with olive oil. (If the skin is still on the fish, apply seasoning and oil only on the flesh side.)
Vacuum seal the sea bass. Season the shrimp with salt and vacuum seal those as well.
Cook the sea bass and shrimp sous vide for 30 minutes at 55C/131F. Chill the sea bass and shrimp in the bag in cold water (better with ice cubes) and refrigerate.
(This is a higher temperature than I use for sea bass that will subsequently be pan fried on the skin, because in this case the sea bass is not pan fried afterwards and will be served cold.)
Season the cauliflower, carrot, and beetroot with salt, and vacuum seal in individual bags.
Cook the vegetables sous vide for 90 minutes at 85C/185F. The cauliflower tends to float, so use a grill or something to keep it submerged.
Chill the vegetables in the bag in cold water after cooking.
To assemble the dish, take the sea bass out of the bag and remove the skin (if the skin is still on it). If you cooked the sea bass with skin, you can now season the side where the skin used to be with salt. Squeeze some lemon juice on the fish.
Brush the insides and rim of 4 tumblers (with a diameter of 6 cm/2.5″) with oil. You won’t be eating the oil, it is only there to make it easier to line the glass with plastic wrap.
Line each tumbler with a 30 cm (12″) square piece of plastic wrap. (Later I discovered this is easier if you first put a slice of beet in the center of the plastic wrap. This will then be the first layer of the stack.) Make sure there is no trapped air underneath the plastic wrap.
Divide the fish into 8 equal portions (you can break it up into chunks with your fingers). Allow the cauliflower to drain and pat the carrot and beetroot dry with paper towels. Assemble the stacks by placing the following layers in each glass:
- Salsa verde
- Salsa verde
- Salsa verde
- Salsa verde
Use about a quarter of the total amount of salsa verde for each layer. Carefully press on each layer to make sure the stacks will be sturdy.
Fold the plastic wrap closed and store the tumblers in the refrigerator until half an hour before serving.
Take the tumblers out of the refrigerator half an hour before serving.
Pull on the plastic wrap a little to loosen the stack within the tumbler. Then fold the plastic wrap to the sides and place each tumbler with the open side down on the center of a plate.
First remove the glass…
…and then the plastic wrap. Place a shrimp on top. Repeat with the other tumblers, and the dish will be ready to be served.
An obvious and good pairing for Cappon Magro is a Vermentino or Pigato (which is actually also a Vermentino, even though most locals are not aware of that) from Liguria. I have tried the dish with the above wines, and all of them were good matches. However, the Gavi di Gavi Minaia by Nicola Bergaglio and the Derthona Timorasso by Massa were the best pairings. The Vermentino Colli di Luni is very similar to a Vermentino from Liguria, as it is from just across the border in Tuscany. The other wines were a Roero Arneis and an Erbaluce di Caluso.