When Futura Prima, the Testa family’s second motor vessel, is not busy supporting the Atlante during the month-long red tuna season, it is used for fishing anchovies. The anchovy season runs from June to September and its main stage is in the waters off Portopalo di Capo Passero. The vessel is docked there, so as to be as close as possible to both the fishing area and the processing factory.
Just like the red tuna, the time taken to process the anchovies is a factor that determines their quality. Once they are caught near the sea bed, about ten to twenty miles from the coast of Portopalo, it takes three to twelve hours depending on the amount of fish to be processed.
The anchovies enter the Portopalo factory at 4 degrees and are transferred to a cellar at the same temperature. From there, they move to the room next door to be processed.
The first step is to remove the head and the innards. Workers slide the gill of each anchovy between their thumb and index finger. In this way they extract the head along with the guts, leaving a semicircular slit. The perfect slit, in the shape of a crescent moon, is testimony of superior workmanship. Within two hours from the anchovies’ arrival at the factory, they are salted and packed in plastic containers known as “cugni” (once made of wood), of five, two, one and half kg capacity.
The fish are arranged side by side in a circular motion and each layer overlaps the one below it in a north-south, east-west pattern. A border is put over the “cugni” so that the containers can hold extra layers of anchovies. The natural shrinkage that takes place results in a container that is packed just right to the brim.
The amount of time necessary to preserve the anchovies in salt depends on the weather and humidity. The “cugni” are transferred into 70kg bins and weights are placed on top to drain out excess and blood and water.
Preserving in oil
After the anchovies are ready, they are removed from the salt pack and trimmed with a pair of scissors. The dorsal fin and part of the stomach are snipped off. Next, they are wrapped in perforated cloths and spun at a speed of 700 cycles per minute for about five minutes to eliminate any residual liquid.
Once they are deboned, it is time to put the anchovies into jars, to be filled with organic, cold-pressed sunflower oil. Here, workmanship is vital. The trick is to lean each filet against the previous one, forming a continuous wall around the whole circumference of the jar.
At the end of the entire process, it is as though the anchovies are in a treasure chest, small but invaluable, to enjoy bit by bit.
Within 24 hours from the time the mackerel is caught by Futura Prima in the seas around the Eolian Islands, they are transferred to the Portopalo factory at a temperature of 4 degrees.
They are then worked by hand in a smilier manner to the anchovies, to remove the head and innards in one swift movement. Next, they are arranged in special trays and steamed. After that, they go into dehumidifier cellars where excess liquid is dried out.
At this point, the mackerel is ready to be deboned and sliced into filets that range from fourteen to sixteen cm depending on the size of the fish.
Once they are arranged in the jars, they are put in a vacuum by adding oil. Finally, the jars are sterilized at 121 Celsius degrees.