Types of Seafood Used in Spanish Cuisine

Spain, Mallorca, Tapas with fish in Palma de Mallorca, close up
Seafood tapas with fish and prawn in Palma de Mallorca. Getty Images/Westend61

If you have ever been to Spain or had a friend from Spain, you know that Spaniards have a love affair with seafood. The Spanish crave fresh fish and shellfish of all kinds, from cod to lobster. 

If you stop to think about it, the love of seafood is only natural, if you consider that Spain is surrounded on three sides by water -- the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Cantabric Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the east.

As far back as the Romans, plants were built to preserve fish by salting and drying them.

Below is a list of typical Spanish seafood you would find on a menu or eaten regularly in a Spanish household.

Lobster or Bogavante

The Bogavante is what we tend to think of lobster in the USA. It is a large crustacean with large claws that are full of tender meat. The Spiny Lobster which is a seabed crustacean without claws is called langosta in Spain and has very tasty meat, indeed. They are boiled and served with sauce, or mixed in a seafood rice dish,

Langoustine or Cigala

The langoustine or cigala is also called the Norway Lobster or Dublin Bay Prawn. It is a crustacean, but much smaller than its cousin the lobster and of the deep sea variety. Cigalas are slim and orange-pink in color, growing up to 9-10 inches (24 cm) in length. They are found in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the North Sea, but are not common in the Mediterranean.

They are very versatile and in Spain are often prepared by boiling, cooked on a flat grill or fried.

Snow Crab or Centollo

The centollo is a crab that is popular in the North of Spain and has long thin legs and two spines on the front for protection. These crabs can sometimes weigh in at over 8 lbs. These can be used in all sorts of Spanish dishes -- soufflés, croquetas, crab cakes or empanada filling.

Blue Crab or Nécora

This little crab never gets much bigger than 4 inches long, is hard to crack open and has little meat, but is very tasty! It has a blue hue and it seems to be covered in velvet. It is a popular crab in Galicia and is often simply boiled in sea water with a bay leaf.

Crab or Buey de Mar

This type of crab is what we in the US think of as a crab -- large with two large, meaty claws. It can range from about 4 inches to 10 inches in length and can weigh more than 6 pounds! It has a smooth, oval shell covering its body. It can be prepared by boiling it and serving with sauces, in salads or other dishes. The liver is considered especially tasty.

Shrimp or Gambas, Langostinos, Camarones

Shrimp has many names in Spanish and comes in many different sizes. Langostinos are probably the largest of the shrimp listed here. They are often times boiled and served cold with salsa rosa or in a vinaigrette sauce. Gambas are medium size shrimp that are served many different ways, the most common being quickly grilled very hot with salt and lemon juice, although gambas al ajillo is a very popular and tasty tapas dish where the shrimp are thrown into a hot frying pan of olive oil, tons of garlic and a dash of paprika and lemon juice and eaten with bread.

The smaller camarones are not eaten as much in Spain, are harder to find and command a higher price.

Octopus or Pulpo

Octopus has eight tentacles and is very tough unless cooked properly. Prepared a feira, the octopus must be pounded well to make it tender. Then it is cooked whole and cut into pieces and seasoned with olive oil, paprika, and salt.

Squid or Calamar

Calamar can be prepared several ways. The most popular way is probably to cut them into rings, bread and fry as a tapa and serve with lemon juice. Other ways to prepare calamar is to cook them in their own ink or stuff them with fillings.

Goose Barnacles or Percebe

Yes, you read correctly -- percebes are barnacles! They look like a gooseneck clam and Spaniards love to eat them. The most common way to prepare them is to boil them for 5 minutes in salted water and serve them hot and fresh.

Oysters or Ostra

Oysters are often eaten in Spain as they are in the USA and other places – raw! Squirt a bit of lemon juice or a touch of spicy sauce on one and pop it into your mouth for a tasty pleasure. They are also prepared with wine and garlic or breaded and fried.

Razor Clams or Navaja

Razor clams look like long tubes with a shell on them. They are very tasty and usually broiled or steamed and served simply with lemon juice.

Clams or Almeja

In Spain, you will find many varieties of clam, each with their own name. Clams are a very popular item on any menu by themselves or used as an ingredient in soups, stews or rice dishes.

Mussels or Mejillon

Mussels are also a popular seafood in Spain and you will find them prepared in a thousand different ways -- boiled and sautéed with wine and garlic, cooked with tomato sauce, added to rice dishes, in a vinaigrette sauce or stuffed breaded and fried, like tigres.

Heart Clams or Berberecho

These tiny clams are delicious and the meat is often added to soups and rice dishes to give them more flavor, or chopped finely and used in fillings, however many people like to eat them raw with a bit of lemon juice. It is also common to see canned berberechos on a plate with oil and vinegar as an appetizer in Spanish homes.