Traditional Cuisine: Past and Present - Products from the Sea

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

Spain boasts a comprehensive gastronomy that reflects its rich geographical variety and extensive resources. Recipes are handed down through the generations and have interesting and curious stories surrounding their origins.

Cuttlefish in its inkReal Academia de Gastronomía

Cuttlefish in its Ink

Cuttlefish is the name given to small squid, especially in the Basque Country where they are traditionally enjoyed.

Cuttlefish in its ink ingredientsReal Academia de Gastronomía

Cuttlefish, onion, tomato, bacon, and cuttlefish ink

The cuttlefish body is stuffed with sautéed pork or ham hock and trotters. Then it is cooked in an onion-based sauce with other sautéed vegetables, to which the ink is added.

Cuttlefish in its inkReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Basque Recipe with a Touch of the Orient?

Although it is one of the most typical recipes in Basque cuisine, its origin is unclear. One of the most likely theories was put forward in the thesis of Julián Otero, from the Basque Culinary Center, which suggests Filipino provenance.

Cooking cuttlefish in its inkReal Academia de Gastronomía

Beware of the Ink!

The most laborious part of preparing this dish is cleaning the mollusks, removing the guts, eyes, mouth, and cuttlebone—a kind of wide, flat spine. It's also important not to break the bag of ink inside.

To enhance the black color of the sauce, fishmongers can usually supply extra bags of ink.

"Marmitako"Real Academia de Gastronomía


Potato stews crop up time and again in the Spanish cookbook. "Marmitako," tuna stew, is typical of the Basque Country and is enjoyed both in winter and summer—when the fish is in season.

"Marmitako" ingredientsReal Academia de Gastronomía

Tuna, potatoes, onion, tomatoes, and peppers

The stew is prepared by browning the bones and the skin of the tuna before adding water and vegetables, some of them already sautéed. The last ingredient to be added to the pot is the tuna flesh, cut into chunks of 2–3 centimeters.

"Marmitako"Real Academia de Gastronomía

Food for Sailors

The origin of this dish is attributed to the fishermen of the region, who prepared it on their boats during the tuna fishing season.

Choricero pepper for a "Marmitako"Real Academia de Gastronomía

The choricero pepper is a variety of shiny red pepper, which is usually air dried in strips, and is very common in Basque cuisine.

This ingredient gives the fish stew its unique flavor.

"Bacalao al pil-pil"Real Academia de Gastronomía

"Bacalao al pil-pil"

"Bacalao"—cod—is very easily preserved, making it highly prized throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In periods of war and food shortages, it was a means of survival, and today is one of the key ingredients in Spanish cuisine, used in dozens of different dishes.

"Bacalao al pil-pil"Real Academia de Gastronomía

Salted cod loins, garlic, chili pepper, and extra virgin olive oil

Before cooking, the cod loins must be desalted. They are placed in a refrigerator in a container of water, which is changed approximately every 6 hours for 2 days.

"Bacalao al pil-pil"Real Academia de Gastronomía

A Fish of Legend

Several theories—undocumented but widespread—indicate that Basque fishermen arrived in North America, specifically Newfoundland (now Canada), well before Christopher Columbus.

Whether prior to the 15th century or in the 16th, as other sources suggest, the sailors who left from the Cantabrian coast to hunt whales found a more profitable product in Newfoundland: cod—in abundance and easy to catch.

"Bacalao al pil-pil"Real Academia de Gastronomía

All in the Wrist

The "pil-pil" sauce, which traditionally accompanies fish in Basque cuisine, would seem to be a simple recipe given its ingredients.

But some real skill is needed to achieve the final result: the pan must be moved to stir the liquid, relying solely on the gelatin from the fish and olive oil to thicken the sauce without adding any starch.

Deep-Fried FishReal Academia de Gastronomía

Deep-Fried Fish

This is a staple of Andalusian gastronomic tradition, primarily from the cities of Málaga, Cádiz, and Huelva, which for centuries have held the secret of the best "pescaíto frito."

Deep-Fried FishReal Academia de Gastronomía

Anchovies, squid, mullet, whiting, yellowtail, flour, and extra virgin olive oil

Once cleaned, the fish are seasoned and floured just before being batch fried in oil heated to about 300ºF.

You can substitute other fish, as long as they are small.

Deep-Fried FishReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Millennia-Old Tradition

According to the historian Almudena Villegas, it is "a typical Mediterranean recipe, linked to 2 1000-year-old products: olive oil for frying, and small or cubed fish."

Deep-Fried FishReal Academia de Gastronomía

Frying to Perfection

There are several stages to good frying: the most important thing is to choose high-quality fish. Next, heat the oil to the precise temperature. And finally, remove the excess flour. This is best achieved by placing the floured fish in a sieve and shaking it quickly.

"You must always use clean oil, and don't wait for it to smoke, as that means it's burning. It is helpful to use a thermometer," advises María Llamas, from the Alambique cookery school.

Salt-Baked Sea BreamReal Academia de Gastronomía

Salt-Baked Sea Bream

This is one of the dishes most commonly featured on restaurant menus along the Mediterranean coast. Baking the fish like this allows the heat to reach it but keeps it dry, partially eliminating the fat while preserving its juices and nutrients.

Salt-Baked Sea BreamReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Method with a History

Earlier methods used before salt-baking involved covering the fish in hot ashes or wet clay to create a sealed surround. Archaeological evidence of both methods has been found.

Salt-Baked Sea BreamReal Academia de Gastronomía

How Is It Done?

As a general rule, coarse sea salt should be used, and the amount should be double the weight of the piece of fish to be baked.

A thick layer is first spread over the base to protect the fish from direct heat. The fish is then covered with the rest of the salt and water is sprinkled over the top to form a crust.

After cooking, it should be left to rest for a few minutes, and the crust should be broken while it's still hot.

Salt-Baked Sea BreamReal Academia de Gastronomía

Sea Bream and Sea Bass: 2 Salt-Baking Favorites

Any type of fish can be baked using this method, but it works best with medium-sized fish (between 2.2 and 4.4 pounds) that are neither too lean nor too oily. The most common are sea bream and sea bass.

"Fabes con Almejas"Real Academia de Gastronomía

"Fabes con Almejas"

This succulent Asturian "Beans with Clams" stew combines ingredients from both the sea and the mountains: fava beans grown in the fields, and clams from the Bay of Biscay.

"Fabes con Almejas"Real Academia de Gastronomía

Fava beans, clams, onion, parsley, and saffron

The dried beans are left to soak overnight. They are cooked for 2 hours and then "shocked" by adding cold water to halt the cooking process.

"We recommend using large pullet carpet shell clams, which release water but do not become chewy," explains the Asturian chef Xune Andrade.

"Fabes con Almejas"Real Academia de Gastronomía

Fava Beans

Fava beans are long, flat, white, kidney-shaped beans, grown in Asturias. Their thin, delicate skin and pleasant texture have made them a high-quality product with a quality brand of their own: "Faba de Asturias."

Fava beans are also a key ingredient in another traditional Asturian dish: "fabada" (bean stew).

Cooking "fabes con Almejas"Real Academia de Gastronomía

Innovate with Tradition

Some Asturian chefs recommend preparing the stewed fava beans separately from the clams marinière, and then adding both to the vegetable stew. It is an effective way of controlling the cooking of both ingredients without the stew losing its flavor.

Credits: Story

Text: María García Muriel, in collaboration with Ismael Diaz Yubero, Spain’s representative at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Advisor for the Spanish Embassy in Rome, member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy, and also with María Llamas (Alambique Cookware Store).

Image: David de Luis (photography), Sandra Jimenez Sorio (food styling), María Eugenia Pérez-Blanco (recipe preparation), Alambique Cookware Store (production).

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García Muriel and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
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