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12 surprising Spanish seafood catches

Most of these seafood varieties don’t really have a proper translation to the English language, that’s why we’re giving you a quick guide to get familiar to their Spanish names, which you’ll surely see on plenty of menus around Spain.

By Valeska Idarraga

Spain is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Cantabric Sea in the north. That makes almost 3.500 km of coastline, providing the Iberian Peninsula with a huge quantity and variety of seafood catches that play a big role in the Spanish cuisine. With such premium base ingredients, there’s no need to add much more to enjoy these fresh delicacies at the table. The cooking methods, therefore, are kept simple, being most of the recipes quick and easy: seafood is usually steamed, grilled or fried and generally seasoned with some pepper, garlic or olive oil, as the main goal is to enhance the sea flavors.

Focusing on the seafood from the shores of Andalusia and Catalonia, below you’ll learn more about some of the most common seafood catches in these two Spanish regions. Most of these seafood varieties don’t really have a proper translation to the English language, that’s why we’re giving you a quick guide to get familiar to their Spanish names, which you’ll surely see on plenty of menus around Spain. So after learning hola and gracias, your next Spanish keywords are marisco (seafood/shellfish) and its varieties, from gambas to carabineros, cigalas and many more.


1. Gamba

The first seafood catch we’re introducing is probably the most common crustacean enjoyed at the Spanish table: gambas, or striped shrimp. In Catalonia, “gambas de Palamós” are particularly renowned. These shrimps are caught around the beautiful coastal town of Palamós, on the Costa Brava, and are easily recognized by its bright red color and fine taste. In Andalusia, make sure to try gambas al ajillo, a traditional recipe for a popular tapa, consisting of shelled shrimp fried with garlic, olive oil and some parsley sprinkled on top.


2. Cigala

Mainly caught in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, this is a species of lobsterette (also known as Norway lobster) that looks like a big shrimp and has a similar texture, although the flavor is comparable to lobster meat. How to recognize them? Very easy, they have claws and present an orangey color (they can be really small or go up to 24 cm in length). Either grilled or boiled, cigalas are very appreciated and expensive in Spain.


3. Carabinero

Another shrimp sub type, carabineros are bigger in size than gambas and langostinos, they have a much stronger taste and their strong deep red color is unmistakable. They are really common in the Andalusian province of Cadiz. Being their head full of flavor, they are excellent to use them for broth in soup recipes, even though they are also delicious on their own. If you want to indulge in a good selection of Spanish shellfish, order a mariscada that has at least a carabinero.


From left to right: Cigalas, gambas and carabineros.

4. Langostino

If gambas are medium-sized, langostinos are a bigger type of shrimp. They can be boiled and served with salsa rosa as a cold entree. Embracing the less is more philosophy, they can also be simply served a la plancha (grilled) with some salt and olive oil. Of course, you’ll find them in a paella marinera too, together with some other seafood delicacies. In our trip to Andalusia we visit the hometown of some of the best langostinos, Sanlucar de Barrameda, it should be in every gourmet bucket list.


5. Quisquilla

Even though some people think quisquillas are just smaller camarones, the truth is that this is a different species. It presents a gray-blue color when fresh, and their quality is somewhat lower than other crustaceans. They are often boiled and served in a tropical salad of fried and served with some lemon.


6. Camarón

Grayer or more transparent tones when uncooked define camarones, they are easily recognizable because of their miniature size. Camarones are used in a wide range of dishes, from tortillitas de camarones (thin and yummy fritters) or simply boiled. They’re very popular in western Andalusia and they’re sold at the beach in small paper cornets, fun, isn’t it?


Photo: Traditional camarones cornet.

7. Sepia

Also named choco in Andalusia, this kind of cuttlefish is considered a mollusk, with arms and tentacles. They’re ink is used to cook the popular and beloved arroz negro (black rice), and other traditional preparations are sepia a la plancha (grilled cuttlefish) with garlic, olive oil and tones of parsley, and choco frito (the best fried cuttlefish in this world is made in Andalusia). Cuttlefish is also great for stews, so you could probably order sepia con guisantes (it comes with green pees) or chocos con papas (cuttlefish with potatoes tasteful stew).


8. Calamar

Calamares a la andaluza, calamares a la romana, rabas de calamar, calamar a la parrilla, calamares rellenos… the possibilities are endless when it comes to cooking squid. There’s no doubt that it’s one of the most versatile mollusks found in the Spanish waters that you will find both in Andalusia and Catalonia. Have you ever tried the famous bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) from Madrid?


From left to right, from top to bottom: bocadillo de calamares, sepia a la plancha, fresh squid and puntillitas.

9. Puntillitas

Traditional from southern Spain, puntillitas are very tiny squids. They have two main preparations: floured and deep-fried until they get a crunchy texture, which makes for excellent tapas, or sauteed in a pan with olive oil and some garlic. Try both!


10. Sardinas

Did you know that the word sardine comes from the Italian island Sardinia, where this fish used to be first caught? Indeed, sardines are typical from the Mediterranean Sea and a staple in the coastal regions of Spain and Portugal. As part of the herring family, sardines are considered oily fish, beneficial thanks to its healthy fats. They are usually cooked a la brasa (grilled), although it’s also popular to have them preserved (en escabeche) or canned in oil when going for tapas.


From left to right, from top to bottom: fried boquerones, fresh boquerones, and anchovies.

11. Anchoas

A true icon of Spanish tapas, anchovies are present in many entrees and appetizers. They receive this name once the fish is hand cleaned and preserved in fillets, offering a salted flavor and a unique silky texture. When in Catalonia, don’t miss anchoas from l’Escala, a coastal town where you can visit anchovy factories and learn more about the salting and preserving process. They’ll probably be the most tender and delicate anchoas you’ve ever tasted (special mention should be made of the anchovies from the Cantabrian sea in northern Spain).


12. Boquerones

Finally boquerones are also a big hit at tapas bars. When fresh they look like small and fine sardines, with super bright skin and no scales, and their tiny size makes them perfect to pickle in vinegar and olive oil – boquerones en vinagre -, widely consumed all over Spain, and magically deep-fried in Andalusia, then named boquerones fritos.


Join us in our Catalonia & Andalusia 2019 trip to get a true taste of Spain’s seafood.

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