Every Cook Should Know These 10 Seafood Commandments That Spaniards Live By
Spaniards are the seafood whisperers of Europe, consuming twice as much fish as the average American. Here’s what we can learn from them.
Ask a Spanish fishmonger for a pound of lubina (European sea bass), and you should be ready for questions: Wild or farmed? Whole or filleted? Skin on or off? For frying or roasting? Forget the limp, pre-packaged fillets of the standard American supermarket—European seafood is varied, abundant, and always impeccably fresh. In that spirit, we feature exceptional European seafood in our Wild Fish Box.
Spaniards take seafood seriously. In Spanish groceries, the fish counter is often twice the length of the meat case and brims with dozens of species of fish—think: meaty slabs of butter-soft tuna, mountains of shimmering fresh anchovies, and firetruck-red mullets scooped from the Mediterranean that very morning. Behind the glass, fishmongers scale and slice each fish with surgical precision, all the while chit-chatting with customers they know by first name. Spanish society would be unthinkable without the neighborhood pescadería: Seafood is a staple protein from Seville to San Sebastian and no doubt a key to the country’s long life expectancy.
Because of Spain’s rich culinary history and shockingly high seafood consumption—Spaniards eat about 45 pounds of seafood per year per capita, compared to 19 in the U.S.—they are some of the world’s wisest seafood whisperers. Here are Spain’s commandments for sourcing, storing, and cooking the fruits of the sea.
- Spring for sustainable: The planet’s fisheries are at a tipping point due to pollution, overfishing, and global heating, which is why Campo Grande sources only bycatch-free fish caught on EU-certified vessels. When buying online, look for transparent sourcing information; at the fish counter, ask the fishmonger for the most sustainable choice.
- Frozen often beats fresh: It would be wonderful to always have access to pristine, ultra-fresh seafood, but let’s be honest: “Fresh” fish in supermarkets is often not fresh at all. That’s why we deal only in frozen fish. It can’t be beat when it comes to guaranteed freshness and ease of storage—when ready to cook, simply thaw it overnight on a plate in the fridge.
Look your fish in the eye: When it’s fresh, fish sold whole should look up at you with clear, unclouded eyes. Another indication of freshness is shiny scales.
Trust your nose: If it smells fishy, don’t buy it. Some oily fish like salmon and sardines have a strong oceany scent, but no fresh fish should smell like, well, fish.
When it comes to ingredients, less is more: Spaniards are sticklers for overdoing it in the spice and sauce department. Fish is generally mild, so to appreciate its subtle sweetness, short ingredient lists are often best. A hot pan or grill and a squirt of lemon juice is all most fish need to shine. Letting fish soak for a short time
Never waste leftovers: Leftover fish can be shredded and mixed with eggs, herbs, and breadcrumbs for easy fried croquetas, or blitzed in the food processor with sour cream, chives, and onion for a no-fuss dip or spread. Legumes and seafood are a classic Spanish combination—cook white beans in fish stock (or good-quality clam juice) until soft, then add a sofrito of sautéed onions, garlic, carrots, and tomato paste for a healthy, flavorful meal.
Don’t knock the can: Some of Spain’s finest—and most expensive—seafood is canned. Cockles, clams, elvers, and bonito del norte are a few of the many specialty conservas Spain exports. Tinned fish is not only trendy; it’s also more widely available. Spoiler alert: You’ll want to watch this space!
Well done is overdone: Overcooking fish flattens its flavor and dries it out. Aim for medium to medium well, and be extra careful when cooking with frozen fish as some of the natural moisture is lost in the freezing process.
Go beyond white wine: Dry, slatey whites from Spain like albariño and godello are crowd-pleasing pairings alongside most seafood dishes, but oily, fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, and sardines sing alongside light reds like pinot noir and barbera.
Embrace the sheet pan: Fish is the ultimate quick-cooking protein because its total cook time rarely exceeds 15 minutes. Try par-roasting root vegetables like potatoes and turnips on a sheet pan, then draping fish fillets over the crisped veggies during the last few minutes of cooking (as we do in this terrific recipe for sheet-pan lubina with potatoes and fresh herbs). Time-crunched cooks should remember that vegetables like asparagus, fennel, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and fennel cook in the oven at roughly the same speed as fish.
Now that you know the basics, put them to the test with our Wild Fish Box, available for purchase here!