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SPANISH SEAFOOD FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Spanish seafood . . . the Spanish have had a love of seafood dating back centuries. The Romans were first to salt and cure seafood and this influence can still be seen today through bacalao salt cod and mojama. Of course times have drastically changed but the process for curing these fish remains basically the same.

What we have to remember is that Spain is surrounded by water, three coasts so of course seafood had been, for a long time part of the staple diet. Go up north to Galicia and you will discover some of the most famous and delicious seafood recipes from all of Spain. Go south and the diet is slightly different, although just as delicious Andalucia has the wealth of the Mediterranean so dishes vary and tend to have a more Moorish influence to them.

Stop by any good tapas bar (particularly on a Sunday) in rural Andalucia and you will be stunned by the tapas on offer, locals buying beers and glasses of wine accompanied by a sound that can only be made by a large spoonful of clams in their shells drenched in salsa being served on a plate, free of charge or course. Weekdays are usually a more modest affair in small rural bars where you may be lucky enough to get a bowl of salted almonds or a few freshly cut slivers or serrano ham, if you really want to experience tapas make sure it's a Sunday, that's when the hot tapas make their appearance. A small serving of seafood paella is an absolute delight and taste even better because its free.

The range of seafood available from any local Spanish fishmonger or indoor market on Tuesdays and Fridays will not disappoint. It pays to buy early both to get the finest fresh produce with the best selection and also to avoid the crowds, fishmongers get very busy especially in markets so it can be quite a wrestle to get served. One fish to look out for is "rape" or monkfish, the tails from these fish can be bought frozen although the fresh examples are the very best, if you are lucky enough to see a monkfish head on sale then be prepared for a seafood paella stock made for a king - true flavour in every sense of the word.

Gambas ~ Prawns

One small delight you simply cannot go wrong with is the humble "gamba" or prawn. One of the more popular tapas recipes is Spain is "gambas al pil pil" or chilli garlic prawns, readily served up in bars these tapas are usually reserved for a table of two or more people where the prawns are served up in a terracotta cazuela brimming with garlic and chilli infused olive oil, bread is always handy for mopping up.

Pulpo ~ Octopus

Another classic which can be cooked very easily at home too is "pulpo" or octopus, almost a symbol of the Mediterranean the octopus is very popular in northern parts of Spain where it is always served in garlic. Octopus makes great tapas as it can be at home just as well in a salad or served hot in a tomato salsa.

Langostines

Langostines, quite an expensive little crustacean but you know where those extra cents have gone when you cook them on the barbeque with a little lemon juice. Like mini lobsters the langostine has a unique and delicious flavour.

Calamar ~ Squid / Cuttlefish

One of the more popular seafood dishes in Spain is "Calamar" or squid. Normally squid is cut into rings ready for the paella or to be battered and fried in olive oil but whole squid can be stuffed to make a meal or starter. Squid stuffed with rice mixed with serrano ham, peas and chorizo is a simple dish and packed with flavour. Another, somewhat underrated relation to the squid is "sepia" or cuttlefish. The cuttlefish is very similar to squid but the flesh is thicker, ideal for the barbeque, again in garlic or simply fried. Cuttlefish also marinades quite well so is an ideal dish to experiment with.

Mejillones ~ Mussels

By far one of the firm favourites is the humble "mejillon" or mussel. Is there anything this little shellfish cannot be enjoyed? Mussels can be cooked in salsa, steamed in white wine and garlic, Asturian cider….the list goes on. Mussels are seasonal in Spain as they are usually bought fresh; there is a verse which says:

En abril para mi
En mayo para mi hermano
En junio para ninguno

This loosely translates as:

In April for me
In May for my brother
In June for no-one

Berberechos ~ Cockles

"Berberechos" or cockles are another shellfish which are very popular, again usually served as classy tapas in a tomato salsa with a hint of paprika along side bread for mopping up that delicious sauce. Cockles are also a main ingredient in seafood paella, thrown in to steam at the last minute these shellfish add that authentic taste of the sea along their larger cousins the mussel or clam.

Almejas ~ Clams

There are so many varieties of clam that it is hard to detail them all individually. "Navajas" or razor clams are a long shaped clam which when their burrow is doused with salt they shoot up to the surface of a wet sandy beach. In Spain razor clams are usually steamed or barbequed with lemon juice and herbs. Rose clams (and similar readily available varieties) are a large to medium clam which can be enjoyed in seafood paella's as well as on their own sautéed with wine and garlic.

Centollo ~ Crab (type)

Centollo is very large crab which, when purchased is Spain usually come alive. These crabs make fantastic dishes such as crab cakes, croquettes and the odd high class soufflé. We think the best way to enjoy this crab is simply on its own as the flavour is exceptional.

Percebes ~ Goose Barnacles

Goose barnacles are commonly found on the Southern coast of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Attached to rocks and even the hulls of ships the barnacles are gathered then cooked quickly by either steaming, boiling or grilling. They do not need much as when overcooked they become quite tough however when done just right the flesh inside is a gastronomic delight.

Ostra ~ Oyster

Eaten the same way all over the world and Spain is no exception. Drizzle some lemon juice over the oyster and slip it into your mouth for one of nature's finest pleasures. Hot salsa, tobasco or chilli sauce also works exceptionally well. Enjoy.

Atun ~ Tuna

Tuna is not a hugely used ingredient in Spain, probably one of the reasons being that if you want to eat tuna then get "the best". Prolific tinned and jarred tuned come from "Ortiz" whom need no introduction, preserving their highest standard fish in fine olive oils. However travel to Madrid and you may meat "Mojama" slivers of cured prime tuna loin almost always served with a short beer.

Bacalao ~ Cod

A connoisseur's choice in the world of cod. Make no mistake these cured fish deliver full Medittereanen flavour. Bacalao fritters are the most popular recipe but this highly versatile fish when soaked will add a superb flavour to your Spanish recipes. Something every budding Spanish kitchen should not be without.

Sardinas ~ Sardines

Massive is Spain. Visit any fishmonger and you will see trays of fresh sardines as well as circular wooden display containers holding dozens of these little fish. Sardines in Andalucia are extremely popular as a midday lunch cooked over the grill, indoor fire or barbeque during the summer months as well as the winter. The sardine served on its own is quite an appetizer but it can also be boned and marinated. Lemon juice is a firm favourite with herbs; the marinated fish served raw makes delicious tapas.

Boquerones ~ Anchovies

Forget what is available in a jar, those salty brown fillets which serve their purpose for many recipes but ultimately you love or hate them. Fresh anchovies are tapas from heaven! Freshly bought anchovies can be filleted very easily (or ask your fishmonger do this for you) then marinade the fillets in lemon juice of vinegar with herbs. The fillets turn white which means they are ready and perfect for summer salads or simple seafood tapas on their own.

Cazon ~ Dogfish/Shark

Dogfish is a fish well worth spending your money on if you have the opportunity. Perhaps nearer the top end of the price band per kilo but not extravagant. Dogfish has a texture quite different to other fish such as cod or bream. A meaty yet melt in the mouth texture which does need to be carefully cooked, requires little in the way of extra flavours as this fish, when cooked correctly challenges the best of the best.

Dorada ~ Gilthead Bream

Another popular fish sold in the indoor markets and village fishmongers, partly due to its ease of cooking and preparation but mainly the flavour of the fish. Gilthead requires no gutting if cooking on the barbeque or simply baking in the oven. Drizzle the whole fish with a little olive oil, add lemon slices, salt and pepper then bake. Skin from Gilthead bream is very thick and is easily removed exposing a delicious meaty flesh underneath. Season lightly for a fish that needs little else.

Caballa ~ Mackerel

Every fishmonger is likely to have trays of mackerel, although nowadays in Spain the Atlantic mackerel is more available than the Atlantic Spanish variety which in appearance is slightly different. Mackerel is an economical fish so very popular, recipes include simple marinated mackerel fillets to full mackerel "asado" which is often served up in a large baking tray ready for the whole family to dig in.

Rape ~ Monkfish

Monkfish is a real delicacy so not that common in recipes although you can find meaty chunks of monkfish in seafood paella's, fish chowders etc. One popular way to serve monkfish is on a kebab alternated with king prawns, wrapping monkfish tail in slices of serrano or iberico ham is also popular although on the expensive side!

Raya ~ Skate

Skate or rather the wings from the skate are commonly used in soups throughout Spain. Skate wings are also popular served with salsas, caper berries and peppers. The wings themselves are full of cartilage not bones so removing the meat from the cooked fish is much easier. A nice flavoured inexpensive fish.

Merluza ~ Hake

Hake is not the most attractive looking fish but has a delicious flavour. Quite a large fish so purchasing usually comes in the form of steaks. The Spanish have enjoyed hake for centuries and as a result there are many recipes for the fish ranging from simple pan frying with a few herbs to complex Basque style fish stews and chowders.

Erizo de Mar ~ Sea Urchin

Northern Catalonia is where you find sea urchins which are enjoyed as fresh as they come. You can see people snorkelling for urchins and when caught are even enjoyed on the rocks by the sea, very fresh indeed. Urchins are normally halved then the roe is scooped out with a spoon. As you would expect they have a strong taste of the sea and are usually served with olive oil drenched bread and a cold morning beer. (Erizo de Mar literally means "sea hedgehog")

Mero ~ Grouper

Grouper is usually purchased already filleted but you can get the full fish. Is another popular fish, especially in Andalucia and is used in a variety of Spanish recipes, the most popular being "la mallorquina" which basically means that the fish will be served with a selection of vegetables on top usually with a tasty fish stock or salsa. Keep the bread handy for this one if you order it in a Spanish restaurant.

Melva ~ Tuna (type)

The most common way of enjoying melva fillets is straight from the tin. Melva is a type of tuna and although not all that common fresh (certainly in rural Spain) fillets from the tin are usually preserved in extra virgin olive oil. The fish makes ideal tapas served on toast or with salad,

Emperador ~ Swordfish

Also known as "Pez Espada". Swordfish is one of the treasures from the sea, a fabulous meaty fish with a unique flavour served all over the Mediterranean. Swordfish steaks can be cooked on the barbeque, marinated, used on kebabs, in paella, seafood stews and chowders. A good all round fish with an exceptional flavour that can hold its own served with salsas or peppered. Also a popular tapa in seafood restaurants and bars.

Caracoles ~ Snails

Bags of snails are a common sight in most Spanish pescaderias, a fascination for the children who more often than not come away with at least one in a bag! Snails are simply cooked, the key is to clean them as best you can before placing them into a pan with olive oil, turn up the heat and infuse the oil with crushed garlic. Delicious!

A Healthy Seafood Diet:

The Mediterranean diet is widely regarded as one the healthiest diets in the world. One of the reasons for this is due to the amount of seafood that is consumed. One thing to remember is that all fish and shellfish contain Omega 3, some more than others. Oily fish such as mackerel and tuna contain higher amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids which contribute to a healthy diet. Accompany this with the vast amounts of olive oil consumed in Spain and you can see why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy. Seafood is readily available twice a week - even in rural areas, immaculately fresh every Tuesday and Friday. This also plays a role as it means that less meat is consumed in comparison to other Northern countries.

Spanish seafood dishes play an important part in the Spanish diet and recipes are a plenty with interesting soups, stews and of course the famous seafood paella. The Spanish also posses the knowledge on what to do and how to cook and prepare various types of fish, such is and has always been the availability and sheer choice of fresh seafood.

Recipes:

For some inspirational Spanish recipe ideas why not pop into our seafood recipe page where you will find ideas for both fish and shellfish, soups to kebabs and some interesting methods and techniques handed down through generations.

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