Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The tambaqui must feel very much at home in this habitat. Even its scientific name (Colossoma macropomum) speaks to its dimensions. (As an aside, our Latin here at Flavors of Brazil isn't all that good, but wouldn't macropomum mean "Big Apple?" Maybe the tambaqui is a exiled New Yorker at heart). The species averages about 3 feet in length (1 meter) and adult specimens can weigh upwards of 65 lbs (30 kgs).
The tambaqui is perfectly suited to its habitat in the Amazon, which alternates between flood season and dry season on a yearly basis. During the flood season, the waters of the rivers overflow their banks and invade the surrounding forests, flooding them for miles around. When this happens, tambaqui literally swim into the forest and gorge themselves on fruits and seeds that fall into the water. When the waters recede, leaving only muddy pools of water, the tambaqui live off the fat that they built up during the time of plenty and calmly await the return of the next flood stage. It is this ability to live for long periods of time in stagnant, low-oxygen water that makes tambaqui an excellent species for aquaculture, and fish-farming tambaqui is a growing industry in the Amazon region.
Culinarily, the tambaqui is highly valued by local dwellers, who love its rich white flesh, full of healthy fish oils. In recent times, however, the tambaqui has also begun to be coveted by inventive chefs in Brazil's metropolitan cities, and a market has developed for tambaqui far from its jungle homeland. One thing that makes tambaqui intriguing for chefs and diners alike is its unique skeletal structure, with large bony ribs, which offers the possibility of creating dishes for racks of tambaqui ribs. Who's ever heard of fish ribs? Well, now, readers of Flavors of Brazil just have. Tambaqui ribs. They're wonderful.
Flavors of Brazil will offer up a recipe for tambaqui fish ribs in tomorrow's post.