Find the first part of pescado here or by scrolling down.
Almejas de Afeitar
I have just read the following description of razor clams which makes me think that I need to up my adjective game: “phallic sand dwelling creatures from outer space”.
The mother thrust the plate at me and declared “taste this. They are the best. What you call in English?” (after some time, with this being a rare sighting of them for me and my word recollection laying dormant) “Razor clams.” “They are the best. Taste.”
Indeed, they were the best of the offerings on this Saturday seafood soiree. Sweet and salty and served in a garlic, onion (or scallion) sauce, maybe with a splash of white wine. The pile of discarded shells loomed high on my plate as I left to wash my hands, triumphant.
Crayfish / La Cigala
I couldn’t quite get the right picture of the steamed crayfish I had so here is a picture of a crayfish. Like the razor clams, which I had at the same meal and so may suggest that I was tired or drunk, I forgot the English word for crayfish, going first through “prawn?” “big prawn?” and “crawfish”, the last being technically correct if I were from the American south. It was lightly fried and served in a light onion sauce and I cut one of my fingers open de-shelling.
I admire that the Spanish serve their seafood whole, or, to put it another way, hold some resentment towards British food suppliers for serving us censored, blanded animals which makes our knowledge of what an original animal product looks like quite limited: what does a plaice look like? bacon comes from pigs?? What came first, consumer disgust at looking at an animal’s eye and tail, or a savvy wholesaler who realised that they can sell worse produce if it no longer resembles the animal. This point aside, crayfish is fine and I don’t eat them nearly often enough.
For when prawns won’t do and there isn’t occasion enough for lobster.
I enjoy how unappetising and functional the above picture makes my favourite tapa dish look. In a bar outside of Carboneras I had anchoas on bread served with a dollop of what I think was creme fraiche. It is so far the only dish that I have tried to recreate at home.
Anchoas are a quick and simple addition to many dishes and are popular to eat on their own. I have yet to see any Spanish people kiss in public. Maybe this is why. So keen are they on anchoas that many people even vinegar the critters themselves.
Mostly caught in the south, and indeed they did taste better in Andalusia than in Catalunya. Due to their preservation process, though, they are quite fine to eat anywhere.
Sardinas a la Barbacoa
A 7pm thunderstorm doesn’t affect barbecue dinner plans. Take a lesson, England: rain hard and fast so we can get on with our lives.
The Portuguese are the biggest sardine lovers that I have come across, but the Spanish come a close second. They are cheap and tasty: what’s more to want. The first time I ate non-tinned sardines I believe was at a campfire on the beach near Almería. (n.b. fires and camping on the beach in Spain are both quite illegal).
At the family barbecue, plates upon plates of wee sardines were brought out. Then two bass (lubina), which I previously regarded as my favourite fish but either the barbecuing of bass is underwhelming, bordering on bland, or sardines are the tastier fish. Quite a meaty fish. Along with mackerel, it is possibly the one that I would most recommend for fish sceptics (for lack of a better term).
The best way to eat them is with your hands. This may not make it ideal first date food, but I wasn’t on a first day. And your hands may be left smelling fishy, but is that not the real smell of success?
Ostras y Almejas
Ostras: a favourite for the fancy set the world over. The parents went on an anniversary meal to a Galician raw food restaurant. The downstairs of the restaurant was a traditional Galician restaurant, while the upstairs showcased their pandering to trends. Raw oysters were €5. I was told they were very fresh (they should be) and were served with a slightly picante sauce. Raw is the more popular way to eat them. This is my preference as well, and I have worked in the oyster industry for one heady, youthful summer. The texture puts a lot of people off, but the taste, one of the purest tastes of the sea, certainly makes up for it.
Almejas, or clams, are served steamed as a dish on their own, with a light wine and onion sauce similar to that of the razor clams, and also added to dishes, most notably and enjoyably the paella. In my experience, the poor clam seems to be the most forgotten of the shellfish, with people tending to have a preference for mussels or oysters. Except maybe the Italians with the marvellous spaghetti a la vongole. Oftentimes it is to do with the quality of the ingredient. We need better clam suppliers.
Oh, clam, you are fine and don’t you forget it.
As a child I would eat mussels by the bagful (the mussels bought from the supermarket came in a bag). Keeping with my “inner child is your true self” it came as no surprise that Spanish mussels are wholly enjoyable to me. Typically they have been served with salsa de tomate, or a squeeze of limón. And, of course, in paella.
No mussel stories. No mindblowing differences for Spanish mussels. Just their usual good selves. Mussels for your muscles. You deserve it.
Lubina al Horno
Here is a note that I left to myself which you can now enjoy: Christmas Day is Navidad. Christmas Eve is Nochebuena. Epiphany Día de los Reyes Magos, and the most important day for children during the holiday period as this is when they get the most presents.
For a long time, sea bass was my favourite fish and I would rarely go to a restaurant which had bass on the menu and not end up ordering it. Over time, either from overexposure or getting a more rich palate, my love of sea bass has slowly begun to mute.
In Spain, I have only eaten lubina during the sardinas barbecue and at a meal with manta ray. Both times I preferred the other fish. Bass, alas, is quite bland. Gone are the days where I would describe my culinary life as “bland and tepid”.
And now an explanation for the first paragraph of this segment. The father usually cooks lubina al horno for Christmas Day. And sometimes turkey. Christmas Day in Spain doesn’t have the rigorous dining traditions of the UK and the US. Maybe this is because we have less of a dining tradition in the rest of the year, so on the handful of times that we have a tradition we stick to it hard. Talk to me about turkey and roast potatoes and pigs in blankets and parsnips, heck, even Brussels sprouts. I shan’t be ordering the bass.
If this picture and my lunch experience are anything to go by, it is quite common to serve manta ray with bass. It is relatively oily for a white fish, but if you serve it with a pepper it cuts through a little. A nicely rounded fish. If not a little flat in the water.
Lenguado a la Meuniére / Sole
A conversation that came about as a result of my broken Spanish.
Question I intended to ask: you mostly eat fish. Is fish much more expensive than meat? In the UK it’s notably more expensive.
Question I actually asked: what is the most expensive fish?
“No sé.” Was their first response. Then a gap. Then they told me about sole. In Catalunya it has for the last thirty years or so been relatively popular among mothers as it is generally one of the more well-liked fish for children. Demand is high, so the price is high. In other parts of the country, the fashion for sole hasn’t caught on so much so it is cheaper.
The popularity in Catalunya may be somewhat explained in the influence that France has had over the region. The typical way of cooking the sole is a la meuniére, very similar to sole with beurre blanc.
Percebes / Barnacles
Blistering Barnacles! A phrase I finally understand the meaning of.
The father bit a barnacle and sucked it out its shell.
The mother snapped the barnacle and got covered in its juice.
I laughed. Then did the same.
The father told us to bite. I bit. She didn’t. I got covered in the juice of her barnacle. Extra laundry for me that day.
More appetising to the palate than to the eye, though a taste of the sea for both for where else on earth would something that looks as such come from.
The children weren’t keen. For children to like something you have to get at least two of the following: taste, texture, look, frequency.
A special treat for the grownups during the fin de semana will give the children nightmares.
And, as an extra treat for you and for me:
Thai Seafood Extravaganza
My mother has an ex-work colleague who lives in Barcelona. His wife owns a Thai restaurant. She arranged for me to meet him, and he invited me to his restaurant.
The menu was quite extensive, so I did what I always do and ask what they recommended. He asked what I liked. I replied seafood, and said he’d come up with something.
To start was a light Thai prawn salad. Lovely. Work your way through those shells.
Next came the seafood platter as presented in the above picture. I finished it, save two clams (alas, poor clams).
“What did you think?”
“Yes. You’re very lucky in Barcelona to have such good seafood. But it’s not very spicy for Thai food.”
“No, we get quite a few complaints because Spanish people can’t handle spicy so we only give it to them spicy if they ask for it.”
Catering for western palates is he ruination of cuisines. Fair enough, it’s good to try new foods and if you can’t handle spicy food it may limit your options and if the demand isn’t there then the supply will have to do something about it or face closure. But to only make something spicy, to make it authentic and better, if you specifically ask for it seems a great shame. That they had to change their style because of complaints that the Thai food tasted, well, like Thai food is a minor culinary travesty.
Saying this, I can’t have too much spicy food and so this was one of the most enjoyable Thai dining experiences I’ve had. Al fresco on a terrace before going to the Magic Fountain and reminding myself again that touristic areas make me uneasy. Then back again for a beer.
Consider this a plug for Thai food in Barcelona: Thai Siam, Carrer de Béjar, 64, 08014 Barcelona. thasiam.cat +680 96 56 35. Near Parc de Joan Miró.