Athens Central Market & Sea Bream in Avgolemono

IMG_1436-1If you’re a regular reader of my site then you’re into Greek food, enjoy the reports from my vacations in Greece and you’re interested in Greek cuisine and it’s ingredients.

Athens – Greece’s capital is home to about 5 million people. That’s alot of people that have to be fed. Most Greeks will go to their local butcher, “manaviko” (fruit and vegetable) stand, neighborhood fishmonger or shop at one of the several farmers’ markets that roam and set up in sectioned-off streets on various days of the week.IMG_8115

Supermarkets, big-box stores and shopping malls also exist in Greece and yes, Greeks will also shop there and I would be a hypocrite if I damned those that do-  as I shop a supermarket too!IMG_8158

However, most Greeks do not buy produce from a supermarket and many will still buy cheeses, meats and fish and seafood from local, neighborhood merchants.IMG_8153

Smack in the middle of Athens is the Varvakeios Agora – Athens Central Market. If you’re in Athens and you’re enthused about food and markets – you have to stop here. Getting to Varkakeios is really easy.IMG_8215

Get thyself to Omonia Square and seek out Athinas Street (street names are bilingual). Omonia Square is a roundabout with streets like Athinas that surround Omonia like spokes on a wheel.

Varkakeios is a five minute walk from Omonia Square and you know you’re near when you start to hear the hustle & bustle, the shouts of touters, the smell of herbs and spices, the sounds of livestock.IMG_8152

Varvakeios Agora consists of the Central (or Municipal) Market of Athens on both sides of Athinas and the surrounding area and shops are included in Varvarkeios Agora. On one side of Athinas are the fruit and vegetable vendors who will sell the freshest of seasonal produce. In the old days, produce was strictly local but it’s 2009 and transport makes it possible for food to be sent from all over Greece.IMG_8219

There are shops facing Athinas street that sell dried fruits and nuts. Further inside the main fall are two grand halls – one with all the fish and seafood vendors and the other contains the purveyors of meat.IMG_8174

You will be met by touters, people who will urge you to buy from their stall. If you’re intent is to simply be a spectator, smile and move on. If you want to take photos (and you don’t know Greek), show your camera, offer to take a photo of the vendor or with the vendor. Greeks love being photographed and hey, we’re such hams!IMG_8212

Visiting a central market gives you a good slice of Greek Life.  Varvakeios opens very early in the morning and closes late in the afternoon. It’s very crowded, it’s loud, the sights and smells will excite you and if you’re the type that likes people-watching…this is the place.IMG_8210

If you’re a little tired and hungry, there are many small eateries (oinomagheria) that offer traditional Greek food for an affordable price with some wonderful retsina from a barrel.IMG_8155

Construction of the Athens Central Market began in 1876 and was completed by 1886. The architect was Ioannis Koumelis. The market as we know it was built to replace the many sheds that served as the main market inside the ruins of the Library of Hadrian, after it burnt down in August of 1884.

The name Varvakeios comes from the Varvakeion Lykeon (school) which stood from 1857 to 1956 in a nearby square, next to Sokratous Street. Psarianos Ioannis Varvakis, a wealthy merchant from Epirus donated funds to help build the school for gifted boys. The Varvakeion Lykeon was gutted by fire during the Dekembriana in late 1944 and in 1956, it was demolished. As an ode to this piece of Athens history, the Central Market area is affectionally known as Varvakeios Agora.IMG_8190

When in Greece, I always go “gaga” at the wide array of fish and seafood and the sheer freshness of it. Living in Toronto, I’m fortunate to be able to seek out decent fish and shellfish but really…the fish you eat in Greece was just hours earlier swimming in the seas that surround Greece.

A common fish you will find in the markets of Greece is the sea bream. The Greeks call this fish “tsipoura”, “dorade” in French. Sea bream is excellent for grilling, served as a fillet or poached.IMG_1430-1

Today, I’m going to pan-fry the fish and then finish it off in the oven. I’ll dress the fish with an Avgolemono Sauce, an egg-lemon mixture that figures prominent in Greek cuisine.IMG_1447-1

Serving fish with an Avgolemono Sauce is a classic pairing. It could be a fish soup with Avgolemono or something creamier, like in this dish. Some recipes call for the fish to be pan-fried and then finished on the stovetop. I’m a little perplexed as to how I will be able to fit sea breams into even the largest of skillets. A simple transfer to a deep baking tray does the trick.

The ingredients here? Little…fish, fennel bulb & fronds, leeks, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stock. The key steps here are pan-frying the fish and pulling-off the Avgolemono sauce.

When pan-frying a fish, the pan must get hot with no oil in the pan. You’re going to rub the fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay the fish down and let the pan do the work. With a fish the size of sea bream, you want the fish to fry for about 6 minutes to a side.IMG_1427-1

As for Avgolemono sauces, the biggest mistake anyone can make is to multi-task while making the sauce. Avgolemono is simply an egg and lemon mixture. Hot liquid is tempered so that you don’t end up with scrambled egg. If you gradually introduce the hot liquid to beaten eggs and lemon juice, you’ll pull it off each and every time.

Finally, this classic dish is usually made with the European variety of celery. The stalks are long and thin but this vegetable is used alot in Greek cooking and not always available in the markets here. Here I’m using fennel stalks (usually discarded) and the fronds. I get that celery flavour plus some anise undertones…perfect for today’s fish.IMG_1441-1

Sea Bream (Tsipoura) With Fennel and Avgolemono

(serves 4)

4 whole gilt-headed sea bream, trimmed, scaled & gutted

2 cups of fennel, stalks and bulb, roughly chopped

1 leek, sliced

1/2 cup of olive oil

sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

approx. 4 cups of vegetable stockIMG_1434-1

Avgolemono Sauce

2 eggs

juice of 1 lemon

1 heaping tsp. of flour (diluted in water)

Pre-heated 350F oven

  1. When ready to cook your fish, generously rub the fish with olive oil and season (inside & out) with salt and pepper. Bring a large skillet to a high heat and NO oil in the pan. Place the fish in the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-high and fry the fish in batches for about 6 minutes a side (leave the fish alone, the pan will do it’s work).
  2. Reserve the fish in a deep baking tray and set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 350F, middle rack. In the same skillet over medium-heat, add the olive oil and your chopped leeks and saute for about  5 minutes, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add your wine, half the stock (2 cups) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the chopped fennel and simmer for another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour the contents of the skillet over your fish in the baking tray and add more of the reserved stock, enough to submerge the fish just over half-way. Cover baking tray (I used aluminum foil) and bake in your pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, dissolve the flour with some water and then pour into a large bowl. Add your eggs and lemon juice and whisk until a little frothy. Set aside.
  5. Take your baked fish out of the oven and remove the cover. Bring your bowl with the egg & lemon mixture nearby and start beating it. Take a ladel of the stock from the baked fish and while beating (whisk or fork), slowly pour the liquid (while beating) into the egg & lemon mixture. Scoop another ladle of hot stock and again, slowly add to the egg & lemon mixture while beating. If you have enough liquid for another ladle, repeat this step.
  6. Now slowly pour the Avgolemono Sauce over the fish in the tray and gently shake back & forth to distribute the sauce evenly. Cover with aluminum foil again and allow the Avgolemono to set for about 5 minutes.
  7. Divide and plate, with some vegetables as a bedding, then the fish and a spoon over some Avgolemono Sauce over each fish.  Garnish with some chopped fennel fronds and serve with a rice pilaf.
  8. Pair the meal with a Tsantali Ampelonas...a Greek white made of Sauvignon Blanc and  Assyrtiko grapes.

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at  http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

© 2007-2009 Peter Minakis

© 2009 – 2010,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

34 Comments for “Athens Central Market & Sea Bream in Avgolemono”

says:

The Sea Bream looks so beautiful and delicious. I cannot wait to try it, especially as I love fennel as well. The pictures of the markets and produce so remind me of home. Thanks for sharing

says:

i shall never tire of your picture tours, peter. as i’ve said numerous times, it may be the closest i get to greece. golly, that’s a sad thought.

says:

I love Dorada chico!!! Never tried your way though… great! I need new recipes and a bit of a change to the traditional Dorada a la Sal :D.

Seeing Athens central market is like being at home. There’s so many similarities with Spanish culture!

Joanne

says:

This dish looks fantastic – lots of zoumi! Tsipoura is one of my favourite fish – and lithrini too!
You forgot to also mention that “you know you’re near [the market] when you start to smell the feisty scent of the fish and meat!” No matter how much I tried, I could not make myself enter the fish and meat market in Athens…the smell was atrocious! That being said, it’s THE best place to go for its fresh food and its great selection and reasonable prices!!

Ξανθή

says:

Peter η αλήθεια είναι ότι με αυγολέμονο δεν έχω κάνει ποτέ έτσι το ψάρι. Αυγολέμονο βάζω μόνο στην ψαρόσουπα.
Η αγορά είναι πανέμορφη την επισκέπτομαι κι εγώ αρκετές φορές αλλά ψάρια αγοράζω κάθε Σάββατο από τη λαϊκή αγορά της οδού Καλιδρομίου στα Εξάρχεια, αξίζει την επόμενη φορά που θα έρθεις στην Αθήνα να την επισκεφτείς.

says:

Very special dish! Aygolemono usually goes with fish soup, for me. I will try it. That’s for sure. Sea bream is one of the few fishes I like. Fennel surely belauds the recipe!!!

says:

I love a good market Peter and it’s usually the first thing I try and do whenever I am in a new country or city. But… I do a lot of my shopping in a regular supermarket for the simple reason that there is not a lot more in my neighbourhood except once a week… :) But there is nothing that can beat a good market and the Greek ones are among the best!

says:

I’ve never gotten to visit the central market but look forward to it next year when we actually spend some time in Athens instead of just drive through it to get to and from the airport.

The fish looks great … I too have never made an avgolemno to dress a whole fish but it sounds amazing especially with the addition of fennel.

says:

Oh, I wish I lived in a place with a market such as this. There are similar ones in the Caribbean but unfortunately not here in Barbados :(

says:

I have never thought of cooking a tsipoura like that Peter! Now that i think about it I have never thought of combining avgolemono with fish, perhaps due to the presence of eggs. But then again, mayonnaise has eggs too…

says:

Mono se psarosoupa exw dokimasei psari me avgolemono, den kserw an synithizetai edw etsi to psari, isws se kapoia meri tis Elladas.
Pmtws moy arese poly h idea kai o syndyasmos ywn gefsewn!!

says:

“4 whole gilt-headed sea bream, trimmed, scaled & gutted” You forgot to add de-eyeballed. It is looking at me Peter! Other than that I would love to eat this fish.

says:

Greek market seems like a paradise for market lovers and foodies alike. I want to be there! Fish with avgolemono sounds intriguing. I love that sauce but haven’t tried it with fish.

says:

I’ll be honest and say i’ve never played around with Greek food. I thought about you last night during a show on greek food (I think on Bravo). they took intestine, much like very looooong pasta, and wrapped it around lamb skewers and then put it on top of hot coals to cook for 4 hours. I was so intrigued, knowing I was having issues with that string of intestine! LOL!
Great great looking fish, Peter.

says:

Thanks for the virtual tour of the markets Peter! I too would have never thought to pair fish with avgolemono…but that fennel has sold me!