Eating great seafood by the sparkling blue Mediterranean – preferably with a chilled white wine or an ice-cold beer – just has to be one of the finer things in life.
But there’s a huge amount of choice on offer. So here’s my guide to seafood in Spain, complete with English translations.
You’ll find many of these dishes served as tapas – small dishes to share. If you want a bigger serving, order a ración, and you’ll get a good plateful.
I’ve included translations of different seafood cooking styles at the end of this post (or jump straight to it here).
The * symbol signifies seafood landed in our town, Villajoyosa/La Vila Joiosa on the Costa Blanca.
- Almejas: clams (also known as chirlas). Often served as almejas a la marinera, in a garlic, onion and white wine sauce.
A plate of almejas – little clams
- Berberechos: cockles. Usually steamed (berberechos al vapor)
- Bogavante: lobster (aka langosta). Langosta* and bogavante are different types of lobster; bogavante have large front claws, langosta have long antennae. When they’re alive, langostas are a dark orange colour, while bogavantes look dark blue. They both turn pinkish when cooked.
Langostas, identified by their long antennae
- Buey: crab, big and red-brown (see also cangrejo)
- Cañaillas: sea snails. Usually boiled in salt water and served in their shells, with a pin to extract them, rather like eating French escargots.
- Cangrejo*: crab. The ones caught here on the Costa Blanca tend to be a fair bit smaller than the red brown buey de mar. See also nécora.
- Camarón: a tiny shrimp, often from Andalucia. Usually eaten a puñados – with your fingers. Sometimes you’ll find them fried in a tortita – a shrimp fritter.
- Calamar*: squid. Calamares a la romana is a classic Spanish tapa; squid rings fried in a light beer batter. Freshly fried calamares are a joy. Sadly, the tourist version is often a rubbery nightmare with soggy batter. For a main course, order a whole calamar cooked a la plancha (on the grill) and served with an olive oil, garlic and parsley sauce. Calamares are also known as pota in fish shops on the Costa Blanca.
- Carabinero*: red prawn (see gambas rojas below). Beware – these are a lot pricier than normal prawns. But delicious!
- Centollos: spider crabs. From Galicia on the north west coast of Spain. They can reach a fair old size, with huge spindly legs!
- Chipirones*: baby squid. Usually fried in a light batter a la romana or rebosada
- Chirlas: clams (see almejas)
- Cigalas*: langoustine (sometimes called Norway Lobster or Dublin Bay prawn)
- Clochinas or clochinas malla: smaller Mediterranean mussels from Valencia and Sagunto
- Erizos de mar: sea urchins (literal translation, sea hedgehog). A speciality of Cádiz in southern Spain. See the pics below on how to eat them.
- Galeras: mantis shrimp, not unlike a Dublin Bay prawn/langoustine. The meat is delicious, but getting to it is hard work – once you’ve prised off the outer shell and the tail, there’s not a huge amount left.
- Gambas*: prawn. Gambas al ajillo – prawns with garlic, usually cooked in an earthenware dish – is another classic tapa. Gambas a la plancha – grilled prawns – are delicious too. A large prawn may be called un gambón. You often find frozen gambónes caught in the south Atlantic on sale in Spanish supermarkets. They’re very good to eat a la plancha and great value for money.
- Gambas blancas: a paler colour, as the name suggests and (I think) a sweeter flavour. Huelva on Spain’s Atlantic coast is famous for them.
- Gambas rojas*: red prawns. The best-tasting prawns you’re ever likely to see on a plate! With prices to match (think over €100 per kilo for the absolute top quality), but an unbeatable flavour. Gambas rojas are unique to the Costa Blanca, caught at depths of around 600 metres. They’re so valuable that they’re sorted individually, weighed and graded from 1-4. Prawns in category 1 are the biggest and priciest, but the smaller, less perfect specimens down in categories 3 and 4 are delicious too – and much more affordable. Cook them on the grill or in the pan for 1-2 minutes each side, no more. Just wonderful! And don’t forget to eat the meat from the head too – it’s really sweet.
- Langostino*: king prawn. You might also see them called gambónes. Langostinos a la plancha (on the grill) are great for sharing. You’ll often find them sold frozen in Spanish supermarkets. A box full (often caught and frozen in the South Atlantic), is great value for money.
- Langosta*: lobster (see bogavante)
- Mejillones: mussels. Often cooked a la marinera – in an onion, garlic and white wine sauce, or simply steamed (al vapor). Often farmed – they’re usually grown on ropes, a very sustainable means of production.
- Navajas: razor clams, so called because they look like an old fashioned cut-throat razor.
- Nécora: a small crab, most common in Galicia in the northwest of Spain
- Ostras: oysters. Many oysters served in Spain are imported from France, or come from Spain’s north coast. Valencia also produces delicious oysters too, but they’re usually smaller and saltier to taste.
- Percebe: goose barnacle. Scraped off the rocks in Galicia, percebes don’t look like anything you’d ever want to eat. But boiled briefly in salt water, they’re delicious. They’re also expensive, mainly because harvesting them by hand from the rocky shoreline is a dangerous job. Sample them with a glass of Ribeiro white wine from Galicia. For a fascinating insight into the world of the percebeiras – women percebes gatherers – and the discrimination they’ve had to deal with, watch this BBC report.
- Pulpo*: octopus. Try pulpo a la gallega: sliced octopus on a bed of sliced potato with a sprinkling of salt and pimentón (paprika). Yet another classic Spanish tapa. But try also pulpo a la brasa – a tentacle of octopus on the grill. It’s a tricky dish to cook. To achieve a perfect tenderness along the length of the tentacle – thick at the beginning, very thin at the tip – is not easy.
- Quisquillas*: small shrimps. Often boiled (quisquillas hervidas)
- Sepia*: cuttlefish. Usually served a la plancha (on the grill), often with garlic and parsley sauce. Similar texture to calamares (squid). One of my favourites.
- Sepionet: small cuttlefish
- Vieiras: scallops, usually served in their shells (see pic below). In a butter sauce, with parsley and lemon – delicious!
- Zamburiñas: confusingly, these are also scallops, but usually smaller and some say, tastier. Zamburiñas are bay scallops, while vieras are sea scallops, often farmed.
Scallops (aka vieras) have an unbeatable subtle flavour
How your seafood is cooked
- A la plancha/a la parilla/parillada: on the grill
- A la romana: in a light batter (e.g. calamares a la romana)
- A la andaluza: also a light batter, made without eggs.
- Rebosado: in batter (could be either romana or andaluza)
- A la marinera: cooked in white wine + onions (e.g. mejillones – mussels – a la marinera)
- Al vapor: steamed (e.g. berberechos al vapor)
- Fritos: fried (e.g. pescaditos fritos: an assortment of small fried fish)
More great tastes of Spain
Try these posts…
- Everything you need to know about buying or ordering fish in Spain
- More than just paella – my guide to the best Spanish rice dishes
- Queso Manchego – the king of Spanish cheeses
- Jamón ibérico – the world’s finest ham
- A meat-eater’s guide to a Spanish menu
- More than just chorizo – finding your way around a Spanish delicatessen
- Try a craft beer with your seafood
© Guy Pelham