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The European river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) is found mainly in coastal waters and rivers from northern Europe to the western Mediterranean and Russia.

Charcoal lampreys

In picture above: charcoal-grilled, pickled lampreys.

Lampreys are the most primitive of all living vertebrates. Not true fish, they have an eel-like, scaleless body and a cartilaginous skeleton. Their length varies from less than ten centimetres to one metre, depending on the species. Lamprey's round, suctorial mouth is surrounded with sharp teeth, which it uses to attach itself on other fish, feeding on their flesh and blood like a parasite.

Lamprey heads Lampreys are considered a delicacy, especially in Europe. In Finland, they are mainly caught in coastal waters, rivers and some landlocked waters from mid-August to early November, when they are at their best.

In picture on left: close-up of lamprey heads.

After trapping, blood and slime are removed from the living lampreys by spinning them together with salt. Then the whole, ungutted lampreys are rinsed with cold water and grilled over charcoal or smoked.

Charcoal-grilled lampreys are a Finnish delicacy, especially in the coastal areas of western Finland, where the best lampreys are caught. Grilled lampreys are usually further preserved by pickling them in vinegar, in which state they are most commonly seen sold at Finnish fish counters during the lamprey season in the autumn.

However, grilled or smoked lampreys are best eaten freshly prepared, while still retaining their fatty juiciness. Fresh or pickled, the lampreys are eaten whole, with head, guts, tail and all.


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