Pesce Lesso

Boiling Fish in the Italian Manner

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For


    or more Persons, Depending on the Fish

Appears in

This recipe appears here at the insistence of my husband, who claims the boiled or steamed fish he eats in restaurants has either little taste or too much that is not of itself. Here is how it is done in Italian homes, with a little bit of vinegar in the water, no herbs except for parsley, and a restrained use of vegetable odors.


  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 or 2 thick parsley stalks
  • 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • A whole fish, 2 or more pounds, head and tail on, scaled, gutted, and washed; or the equivalent in fish steaks
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Wash, peel, and cut the carrot in half lengthwise.
  2. Wash the celery and cut it into 2 or 3 short pieces.
  3. Peel the onion and cut it in half.
  4. If using a whole fish, choose a fish poacher or other long, narrow, shallow pan. If using fish steaks, choose a lidded sauté pan large enough to accommodate them. Put enough water in the pan to cover the fish later, put in the carrot, celery, onion, and parsley and turn on the heat to medium, covering the pan.
  5. Five minutes after the water has come to a boil, add the vinegar and salt. When the water returns to a boil, put in the fish and cover the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes per inch of the thickest portion of the fish, calculating the time from the moment the water has resumed boiling. The fish is done when it is moistly tender all the way through and has lost its pinkness next to the bone.
  6. Drain the fish. If using a whole fish, lift off and discard its skin while it is still warm and moist. Brush its flesh all over with olive oil.

Serving Note

The fish tastes best when served slightly warm or at room temperature soon enough after cooking so that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Serve with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped parsley, and salt to taste, or with Bagnet, the Piedmontese sauce, or with the green sauce from the recipe that follows.