The well-known Zuger Rötel, which owes its name to the distinctive red coloration during the reproductive period, is currently in season. It was once exported to Paris live in barrels.
It is the "prime fish" of Lake Zug and is even part of the canton's cultural heritage: the Salvelinus alpinus, better known as the Zug Rötel (rubella). This local delicacy is currently landing on countless plates of gourmets once again, as it has high season from mid/end of November to about mid-December.
The rubella is a char (saibling), and its flesh is fine and delicate, as Antonia Grab Anderrüthi from the lake restaurant Zugersee Lido in Walchwil says. She adds:
"Guests who value fresh fish always come back to eat Rötel."
In the Zugersee Lido lakeside restaurant, the fish is offered whole, fried and blue, cooked in fish stock or filleted. "It’s often served in two or three courses, so that you can enjoy the delicate fish prepared in different ways," says Grab Anderrüthi. The classic Zuger Rötelnach Zuger Art is very popular (see recipe below).
It has had a unique importance for the area for centuries. The Rötel was first mentioned in a document in 1281. Up to the late Middle Ages, it even served as a means of payment in the region. Charlemagne (748–814, the first Western emperor of the Middle Ages) also knew the local Rötel. His successor Louis the German bequeathed Fischenzen (fishing rights) in Lake Zug near Cham to his daughters in the Fraumünster Abbey in Zurich in 853, and 30 Rotten (Rötel) from the Lake Aegeri every year to the abbess of the church.
The Zuger Rötel
The Rötel didn’t lose any of its popularity among subsequent generations. Up to the first half of the 20th century, they were delivered live to Zurich and were even exported to Paris. For this purpose, the fish were transported in barrels, with horse and wagon.
The catch rate then fell sharply in the course of the 20th century, and nowadays averages 2,000 kilo per year. Every ten years, the spawning grounds in Walchwil, the stronghold of Rötel, are re-prepared with gravel transported by helicopter. The name Zuger Rötel is protected, and may only be used for the fish from the Zug lakes.
Zuger Rötel in Lake Ägeri.
The history of the Zuger Rötel
A limited delicacy
The Zug Rötel probably enjoys a special status as a delicacy precisely because it is only available over a limited period. The fact that the Rötel can be served on so many plates from mid-November to mid-December is only possible today thanks to the great effort of the fish hatchery in Walchwil and the professional fishermen in the canton of Zug. Lake Zug is actually no longer the ideal habitat for the Rötel. The exposure to nutrients is too high, or the oxygen content at depth is too low. As a result, the eggs of the fish can no longer develop naturally.
In order to ensure their continued existence, the Canton of Zug allows professional fishermen to fish for spawners with a special permit. The fishermen take advantage of the fact that the spawning season and the fishing season coincide for the Rötel. The fish that are capable of reproduction are caught. The professional fishermen are then obliged to bring the spawn to the cantonal hatchery (Brutanstalt) in Walchwil for breeding, where the spawn is fertilised. As compensation, the fishermen are allowed to make use of the fish. Larvae hatch from the spawning egg, and these are then fed until they measure about four to five centimetres. They are then returned to the lake as so-called "stock fish". Around 100,000 small fish are released into the lake every year.
A highly official affair
The official release of the catch is the responsibility of the head of the Directorate of the Interior, where the Fishery department is located. The prerequisite for the release are two criteria: On the one hand, the Rötel must pass a culinary assessment, and, on the other, it must be ensured that there are enough Milchner (males) and Rogner (females) on the spawning grounds in Walchwil.
It is astonishing, however, that the Zug Rötel only has its unique flesh aroma during the spawning season. Even scientists cannot say with certainty to this day why this change in taste occurs in the flesh. Possible reasons are the reduced food intake during the spawning season or a change in the hormonal balance. It is also interesting that Rötel from Zug that are released in other parts of the country no longer have this characteristic.
Assistance in the research provided by the cantonal Office for Forests and Game.
Recipe: Zuger Rötel Zuger Art
Ingredients for four people:
8 pieces of Zuger Rötel directly from the fisherman,
50 g butter,
3 dl white wine,
1/2 dl Noilly-Prat (dry white vermouth),
2 1/2 dl cream
Salt and pepper,
2 tbsp chives,
2 tbsp parsley,
1/2 tsp chervil,
1/2 tsp thyme,
1/2 tsp marjoram
Spread the butter onto a flat dish and cover with half of the herbs, season the stomach cavity of the whole fish with salt and pepper and place them next to each other in the dishes. Add the wine, and steam in the oven at 170 °C.
Keep the fish warm on a plate, ad pour the liquid into a pan, add the Noilly-Prat and reduce to the half, then add the cream and reduce again. Season with salt and pepper, and add the remaining chopped herbs shortly before serving. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve with rice or boiled potatoes.