Saturday, September 1, 2012


Canned seafood makes for easy meals.

It may be September, but in southern Spain this is still full summer. I want quick and easy meals, minimal cooking. So I’m taking my own advice (see a previous blog posting, Too Hot to Cook), and using canned seafood as the starting point for easy meals. With such a great variety, I’ve got lots of options.

There’s way more than canned tuna. Here’s what I’ve got in my pantry: bonito (white tuna or albacore), melva (frigate mackerel), caballa (mackerel), sardines and sardinillas (small sardines), anchovies, mussels, clams, cockles, scallops, octopus, squid.

Spain has long been a market leader in fish conserves.  Way back in Roman days, Spanish garum, a powerfully smelling, fermented fish paste flavored with herbs and packed in brine, was much appreciated in Rome.  Today tuna--albacore, skipjack and yellowfin-- represent more than 55 percent of Spain's canned fish production.  Sardines are second, followed by mussels, mackerel and anchovies.

Mackerel fillets in escabeche.
Tuna and bonito come packed in vegetable oil or olive oil; in escabeche, a vinegared marinade; with lemon; al natural, in brine without added oil, and in ensalada, which includes bits of pickles, carrots and onions.  Fish of similar family are melva, frigate mackerel (one brand markets it as melva de almadraba, captured in anchored nets), and caballa, mackerel.

Escabeche fish, with a piquant blend of oil, vinegar and pimentón (paprika) makes a ready-made dressing.  All that's needed is a good squeeze of lemon.

Canned fish in escabeche--readymade dressing.
Canned tuna, bonito, melva and mackeral can be used more or less interchangeably. All make fine salads and sandwich fillings. Best quality brands are those packed in extra virgin olive oil. But, if I’m making an ordinary tuna-salad-sandwich for the kids, I use cheaper brands, drain off the vegetable oil and stir in some olive oil. For something a little different in tuna sandwich, I like the capote served in tapa bars—tuna with mayonnaise and capers topped with strips of roasted red and green peppers on mini buns.

Canned sardines, whose bones are soft enough to chew, are an exceptionally rich source of calcium. The finest sardines are those packed in olive oil, but they also come in tomato sauce, in escabeche and picante, seasoned with chile.  Sardines make a great topping for pizza. I make a sardine “pâté” to spread on toasts. Combine drained sardines, chopped onion, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, dry Sherry, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper in a mini food processor. Serve on toasts garnished with sliced hard-boiled eggs and thinly sliced peeled cucumber.

I think of anchovies (in a tin, they’re called anchoas; they’re boquerones if they're fresh ones) as a sort of spice.  A dash of them adds pizazz to many different foods.  Chop some into boiled potatoes or mash with cream cheese to make a topping for baked potatoes.  Stir into butter with lemon and capers and pour over veal cutlets.

Squid in ink sauce, great for pasta.

Squid (calamares, pota or chipirones), cuttlefish (jibia, chopitos) and octopus (pulpo) all make fine additions to pasta sauces and, in a pinch, can be substituted for fresh squid in paella or seafood stews. Tinned ones are very tender. Today I’m using squid canned in ink sauce to make a topping for linguine. The meal is ready in less than 30 minutes! (See the recipe below.)

Linguine with squid in ink sauce, quick and easy.
Canned mussels (mejillones) in escabeche are so good that I pack them to take as gifts to friends in the US. (My mother was crazy for them.) They can be enjoyed straight from the can or turned into more complex presentations.  They’re great in a salad of wilted greens with fried croutons, crispy garlic and chopped egg.

Clams (almejas), cockles (berberechos), razor-shells (navajas), wedge-shells (machas), sea-urchins (erizos) and crab (cangrejo) are other shellfish in cans to be found in Spanish shops.

Imported Spanish canned tuna, sardines and shellfish can be found in many big supermarkets in the US or from La Tienda, The Spanish Table, or De España.

Linguine With Squid Sauce

Serves 3 or 4.

4 (80-gram) cans squid in ink (en su tinta)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices bacon, chopped
½  onion, chopped                                       
2   cloves garlic, chopped
1   red or green bell pepper, chopped
Pinch of fennel seeds
1/3 cup white wine
Red pepper flakes
½ pound linguine or spaghetti
Chopped parsley to garnish.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the bacon, onion, garlic and bell pepper for 5 minutes. Add the fennel seeds, wine and red pepper flakes and simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.  Add the contents of the cans, cutting up the pieces if necessary, and simmer another 3 minutes. Add a little water if sauce is too thick.

 Meanwhile, cook the linguine or spaghetti in ample boiling, salted water.  Drain the pasta. Serve it topped with a spoonful of the squid sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.


  1. I haven't yet tried the canned squid with ink but I certainly will soon in your recipe for linguine. The sardine pâté sounds great and I can never have enough ways to eat these little fishies. All of a sudden it isn't too hot to cook here in Valencia so I need to get cracking. ¡Bon profit!

    1. Leftbanker: Nice thing about canned fish is that it really needs little fussing in the kitchen. ¡Que aproveche!

  2. We haven't have mussels in can here in our place.I think the fresh squid ink would be best for this recipe.My family love squid so preparing this would be a hit.