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The taste of tradition

Castradina, historical recipe of a popular festival
by Fabio Marzari

Our best advice on where to taste an ancient meat dish that is traditionally a symbol of the Salute feast day.

As we approach a feast day that is very dear to generations of Venetians – the Madonna della Salute, or Our Lady of Good Health, who delivered the plague from Venice in the 1600s – a chapter must be dedicated to a preparation that is the symbol of the feast itself: the castradina. Wether (gelded mutton) stew is a dish for strong palates, and it also takes several hours to cook, which is why is not very common these days. Nevertheless, it does have its aficionados, and it has the Alajmo family to thank for that. Over the last several years, the famous restaurateurs popularized a castradina sandwich in their Quadri Restaurant in Piazza San Marco. Other caterers followed suit, and in late November offer the same fare. Why mutton? Because of a ‘food corridor’ that linked Dalmatia (now Croatia, then a Venetian colony) and Venice.

Venetians appreciated mutton because it is an easy meat to preserve, thus easy to ship overseas. The recipe is simple and lengthy at once. Some cook the meat for half a day, other for two days straight. What is common is to change cooking water several times over to dilute the intensity of the spices. The meat cuts are served in their own broth and accompanied with savoy. On the right, find a few addresses of restaurants that follow the old recipe.

P.S. If mutton’s not really your thing, but you do want to follow Venetian customs, might I suggest beignets? Stands pop up right by the Basilica these days, and will fry one for you right before your eyes. Wash it down with a hot cocoa drink, whipped cream on top because why not.