Food: Imperative Cooking: Fruits of the Sea

By Anderson, Digby | The Spectator, July 12, 1997 | Go to article overview

Food: Imperative Cooking: Fruits of the Sea


Anderson, Digby, The Spectator


SPANISH fish markets on the south-west coast - the Atlantic - sell some 50 varieties of fish. You can just about get through them in two weeks if you eat two courses each for lunch and dinner. What better holiday to take? There are far more varieties of fish than baroque churches or Moorish gardens but, unlike the trippers who trudge round the churches and gardens, the fish-loving holidaymaker, if he is serious, has to find a flat to stay in so that he can shop and cook. Buying, cooking and eating the fish is the only way to sort through the confusing varieties of bream, the different names, the diverse ways of cooking and the relative importance of size, freshness and origin of different sorts of fish. It is not an arduous holiday. The daily market raid where I was, in Puerto Santa Maria, started at nine - the market of the Immaculate Conception only opens then - or go over to the Cadiz market on the nine o'clock boat. Either market leaves mornings and afternoons free if you must go to the churches and gardens.

Actually, there are more than 50 sorts of fish because with many fish size is everything. It is not so much that tiny soles are better than the larger ones, or that small cuttlefish (say 20 in a pound) tastier than the big ones, or that small live shrimps are better or worse than the huge deep-red prawns, they are just different and need different cooking techniques. There is as much difference between different sizes of the same fish when cooked appropriately differently, as between different types of fish. If you can't get through all the types and sizes, leave out some which are available in England, such as the skate or mackerel - though even these taste different when taken from different waters.

Try some of the following tasks to keep you busy. First work your way through the breams, down from the expensive doradas and urtas through the herreras and zapatas, down to the cheaper brecas and besugos. Depending on size and type, these range from L3.50 down to less than 50p a pound. Then try the 'steak' fishes, the different cuts of tuna, swordfish, shark and the superb corvina. Next are small fish, the confusing different fish called boquerones, including varieties of anchovy and whitebait, the sardines, tiny mackerel, baby whiting (pijotas), baby soles (acedias) and red mullet. Strangers to Spain will not believe just how small some of these are when sold. …

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