Other Names: Lámbrena (Greek); lampers; lamprea (Spanish); lampreda (Italian); lamproie, sept trous (French); neunauge (German); niøeje (Danish); rivierprik (Dutch); stonesucker; xuclador (Balearic Islands); yatsumeunagi (Japanese). Petromyzontidae.

General Description: The sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) is a primitive creature, with no bones and no true jaws, that evolved 250 million years ago. Though not true fish, lampreys resemble and are generally referred to as fish. They are highly prized in certain regions of Portugal, Spain,
and France. They were harvested for ceremonial and medicinal purposes as well as for food by Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Lampreys are prepared like the eels they resemble, though they have finer flesh. Small to medium lampreys are most commonly braised in a rich red wine sauce.

Locale and Season: Lampreys are found in saltwater from Greenland to Florida and from Norway to the Mediterranean,
with some in landlocked lakes. The Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) is found from Baja California to the Bering Sea. They are in season in spring and early summer.

Characteristics: Lampreys are usually about 1 1/4 feet long and are greenish-gray to olive-brown with black marbling
above and grayish-white skin below. They have a long, thin, tubelike body with a large, round, tooth-filled mouth. Behind each eye is a row of seven small orifices, called yeux (“eyes”) in French. Lamprey has mild but extremely fatty flesh, which makes it difficult for many people to digest.

How to Choose: Choose the smallest lampreys for mildest flavor, and have the fishmonger clean and skin them, saving the blood if desired to thicken the sauce.

Storage: Lampreys should be cooked the same day they are obtained.


1. Cut off the tail, tie a string around the head, and suspend the fish over a bowl with a tablespoon of vinegar
added. Open the holes on the side of the fish and allow the blood to drain in the bowl. Rinse the lamprey. (To use the blood, mix it with 1 cup red wine to keep it from coagulating.)

2. Scald the lamprey in boiling water for a few seconds.
Scrape off the skin.

3. Cut around the neck just below the gills, then pull out the long, inedible dorsal nerve through this opening.

Suggested Recipe: Lamprey and Red Wine Stew (serves 6): Cut 2 pounds cleaned, skinned lamprey into sections. Arrange with a bouquet garni (sprigs of parsley, thyme, and 2 bay leaves) and 3 cloves garlic on a bed of thinly sliced onion and carrot in a buttered pan. Add red wine to cover, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the fish, strain the cooking liquid, and thicken with beurre manié (butter mixed with flour to make a crumbly paste). Cook the sauce for 15 minutes or until thickened, then add the fish sections back into the pan with
2 leeks sautéed in butter. Cook together 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the meat is tender. If desired, thicken the sauce further by whisking in the reserved lamprey blood.

Flavor Affinities: Bay leaf, butter, carrot, celery, clove, dried ginger, garlic, leek, mushroom, potato, red wine, red wine vinegar, shallot, thyme, veal stock.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com