Flying fish, in Spanish 'volador', are one of the most fascinating and spectacular fish in the marine world because they can make powerful, self-propelled leaps out of water into the air. Their wing-like fins enable them to glide through the air for about 40 seconds, during which time they can travel considerable distances.
Like most tourists, the fish enter the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean in July and spend time close to the Costa del Sol coast almost to summer's end. Flying fish are plentiful, especially on the Estepona coast. It is only here, in this port-town, that local fishermen know how to catch this peculiar species, and also how to prepare it for the table - the Scandinavian method.
Flying fish is sometimes also called flying cod. Like cod, it is especially good for drying - the oldest and most basic method of preserving fish. Since ancient times, drying has been a food preservation method that works by removing water from the food. Bacteria, yeasts and moulds need moisture in the food to grow. Therefore lack of water inhibits the growth of microorganisms.
It is believed that the process of drying fresh fish without the use of salt, originated and evolved in Scandinavia where dried stockfish is called tørrfisk.
Once caught, the flying fish are cleaned and hung to dry in the open-air on vast wooden racks called stocks, hence the name 'stockfish'.
The Estepona fishermen have mimicked the Scandinavians and also dry flying fish in this way. In Estepona port you can watch fishermen removing the heads, cleaning out the entrails, leaving the central spine, and finally rinsing. Afterwards they hang the cleaned fish out to dry on the racks in the sun for several days, depending on the wind. When eaten, the dried fish is broken away from the spine with the fingers. The texture of the flesh is similar to the Spanish salazón (salting method), and it is often mistaken for fish that has been salted before drying.
Over several years, dried flying fish has attracted not only the Spanish, who are used to eating dried fish, but also foreign residents and tourists.
Shonia Cruz, who promotes this Estepona delicacy, points out that the preparation of flying fish is an example of an international exchange - the Northern, or rather Scandinavian, method of preparation and this southern fish caught in Andalusian waters.
It is also a gastronomical experience. Shonia commented that it is mainly Scandinavians, Germans and Eastern Europeans who come to the port to buy the dried fish as all of them have something similar in their own countries.
Dried flying fish contains a high level of Omega-3 as well as antioxidants. It has little saturated fat thereby promoting a healthy circulatory system.
Dried flying fish also has a considerably lower amount of cholesterol and salt but contains a greater amount of minerals and vitamins. Flying fish roe contains vitamins A, C and D, which help fight various diseases and strengthen the immune system.