From its perch between the Collserola Mountain Range and the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona looks to the high seas for sustenance, and when in Barcelona, so should you. In fish markets throughout the city you’ll find a wide variety of seafood up for grabs, and usually at much better prices than those of local eateries.
From Mediterranean Sea specialties like fresh anchovies, sardines, squid and cuttlefish to tuna and mackerel from the Cantabrian Sea, in Barcelona, you can find it all. Even better, with our easy tips on how to buy and prepare fresh fish, you’ll have the added security of knowing when, where, and in what condition your seafood was purchased.
Here’s what our favourite local fishmonger, Eva Enguix from Barcelona’s famous Boqueria Market, has to say.
Eva’s easy tips on buying fresh fish
What to look for:
- Truly fresh fish is brightly coloured. For example, salmon should be a deep orange-pink, and tuna should be a deep, almost purple red colour.
- Just like healthy human skin, the skin of the fish or shellfish should be moist and well hydrated, not dry.
- Scales should be firmly attached to the fish’s skin.
- When fresh fish is cut, it bleeds.
- The flesh should be firm in texture.
- Large shellfish, such as lobster, crabs and scampi, as well as oysters, clams and mussels should be purchased alive. Mussels and oysters should be tightly shut, or clamp tightly shut when poked (be careful with your fingers). Lobsters and crabs will move their legs and claws when disturbed.
And what to avoid:
- Fish with sunken eyes, dry skin and flaccid flesh are not only unattractive – they may not be safe to eat.
- Pre-cleaned and prepared seafood can be deceiving. Only by purchasing whole fish that is cleaned and prepared in front of you can you be sure of its quality.
- Skip shellfish that doesn’t move, mussels and clams that aren’t clamped tightly shut or don’t shut when disturbed – it’s already dead, and that means not fresh.
Now that you know how to buy the best possible seafood, how to prepare it? Cleaning and de-boning is best left to the professionals – most fishmongers will whip out their alarmingly large knives and do the dirty work for you at no extra charge. Note: the fish is sold by its pre-cleaning weight, bone and all.
Cleaned and de-boned, the quality of seafood available in Barcelona lends itself to an infinite number of preparations. These range from simple (mussels steamed in white wine, grilled prawns, baked gilt-head bream and fried sardines) to elaborate (think seafood paellas and pastas stuffed shellfish). To further guide you on your shellfish journey, here are a few more tips from our friend Eva, the fishmonger.
Eva’s advice on enjoying your seafood:
- Like popcorn, mussels, oysters and clams are fully cooked when they pop open. To be sure they are fully cooked, you can continue heating them for another 1-2 minutes. You should discard any that don’t open.
- Fresh fish should be cooked within two days of purchase.
- Fish should be cooked six to twelve minutes per inch of thickness and is ready when opaque throughout. Overcooking fish will make it tough and ruin the taste.
- Lobster is thoroughly cooked when it turns bright red and the legs snap off easily. The meat should be firm, white and opaque.
Looking for more specific preparation advice? You’re in luck. Eva was kind enough to share her recipe for ‘Boquerones in Vinagre’ or Fresh Anchovies in Vinegar, an easy and typical tapa served throughout Spain.
Eva’s fresh anchovies in vinegar:
- Purchase fresh anchovies from a fish market. You’ll want at least 100 grams per person. Request that the fishmonger clean them and remove their spines.
- Freeze the anchovies below -18ºC for 24 hours to prevent any risk of parasites.
- Defrost the anchovies.
- Put the anchovies in salt water for around an hour.
- Take them out of the salt water and place them in a container.
- Cover them with white wine vinegar and leave for 12 hours.
- Before serving, take them out of the vinegar, place them on a platter and cover them with extra virgin olive oil.
- Sprinkle the anchovies with finely minced garlic and parsley.
- Serve with slices of crusty white bread and green olives.
- Of course, if you’re lucky enough to buy your fish from a fishmonger who speaks some English, like our friend Eva, the fishmonger should be able to give you some tips about how to prepare the seafood you’ve purchased.