Seafood in Asturias is characterized by its excellent quality. Most of the seafood is cooked in sea water and it hardly ever needs any kind of seasoning. Barnacles, lobsters, spider crabs, sea cows, fiddler crabs, limpets or sea urchins are found mostly in Western and Eastern seaside villages of the Principality of Asturias. It can also be tasted in the form of mousse, pate or soup in the region's finest restaurants.
Before enjoying our meal, we should think first about the difficult catching the seafood. Some of the captures can be very dangerous for the fishermen, for example, catching barnacles which are stuck over the rocks where the sea breaks. This means that seafood is an expensive and luxurious dish. The technique used for catching seafood is the same as in the old times, the fishermen still walk over the rocks waiting for the low tide and descend their ropes in the area where the sea breaks, a space that can reach three meters of length and where the flora and barnacles grow freely.
The coast surrounds this beautiful region and seafood such barnacles, cuttlefish, lobsters and spider crabs are well known because of their good quality because this region is located in a privileged place which is open to the Cantabrian sea.
One of the best examples of environmental adaptation is that of the lamps. In spite of the fact that they are strongly stuck to the rocks, their apparent mobility can often cheat us, the mollusc moves, although one can hardly see it. It is the grandfather of "snails" and moves in a very similar way, the only thing that makes it different is that it breathes though gills and does not emerge to the surface. Its shell is plain and sometimes it seems very old, almost a legend. Its trust is the worst of its enemies. The fishermen who are allowed to catch the lamp confuse them and these little molluscs look at their house rocks sadly from the distance when they are finally caught. Several coastal localities pay homage to these little molluscs yearly in a particular gastronomic festivity in which people used to cook them. It is commonly said that this was served to strengthen the diet during hard times, for those who went through the postwar period. Everything serves to point out to you that this mollusc is very flavorsome because all over it we taste the sea.
The recipe for cider has its origins in Huerres (Colunga) that is very famous among its faithful guests. The lamps need to be removed from their shells by steaming them. It is not advisable to boil them because they harden. The accompanying sauce is normally made from vegetables, a mixture of onions, tomatoes, peppers, sausages, ham, paprika and then we add cider and stir it all together with the lamps and sea water. This is so flavoursome that all of the plates are practically licked clean!
The fiddler crabs
The other queens of the coast are fiddler crabs That are normally presented over large dishes, after being boiled and salted. The way to eat them is by separating the legs from the shell, we eat their meat usually with a touch of salt. The "andaricas" are another kind of seafood. They are boiled for fifteen minutes with half an onion, garlic and parsley. In another saucepan we cook, on low heat for one hour, the chosen fish angler or hake, with its head if possible to make it more flavoursome, with half an onion, tomato, carrots and parsley. Once the fiddler crab is cooked we take its meat and grind its shell. The taken substance can be added to the fish stock. Now, we strain it all and add the andariques meat, with half a glass of brandy and half a glass of cider or white wine. We then add to sprinkling of pepper and finally leave it to boil for another hour. The last touch consists of adding a couple of beaten egg yolks and two tablespoons of stock in a separate saucepan.
The route of sea-urchins or "oricios" commonly known in Asturias, starts in the lowland Asturian coast during winter. Many people take them from the coast and eat them raw. Their eggs or caviar are sold in tins. The "sea urchins cake" is very famous in this region and is normally accompanied with king prawns or clams. The sea urchin is famous because it contains iodine, marine salts etc., but we should be careful because if they touched they can prick you.
This is Asturian seafood, simply and shy, yet strong. Many people eat seafood just boiling it and presenting it on large dishes to keep up with modernity. Sometimes it is cooked with many other delicacies and other times it is used for snobbish innovation dishes characteristic of catering.
It is very worthwhile to visit the Asturian coast not only to enjoy the sea sights but also to appreciate the biggest pan where all the best seafood is placed.Text: © Ramón Molleda for desdeasturias.com