What would Italian cuisine be without garlicky spaghetti with clams? A meal in Marseilles “sans”
bouillabaisse? A trip to Valencia with no shrimp and Bomba rice-speckled
paella? Or a Greek table with no grilled octopus or John Dory?
It makes sense that a region named for the sea it so closely hugs would have a long, healthy relationship with the bounty of its waters. Since the evolution of culture along its shores, seafood has been the life force of those who settled the Mediterranean. Fish and shellﬁsh from time immemorial have been a healthy protein for Mediterraneans—every community from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coastal lands of the Middle Eastern crescent has lived symbiotically with these fertile waters and has used them as an important source of food.
Like so many food traditions from the Mediterranean, seafood as an ingredient is versatile both in its myriad of varieties and species from squid to sardines and everything in between, and in the countless ways it can be prepared—be it baked, grilled, fried, raw, broiled, stewed, poached, sautéed, or roasted. Each variety has its own flavor and texture, and everyone has their own favorite way to get it on the table.
Seafood as a culinary partner is hard to rival. Some Mediterranean seafood does well with just a quick flip in a hot pan with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper while others do better poached in tomato sauce and nested atop fluffy farro, vegetables, and beans. However served, fish is a high-protein food that provides a
range of health benefits
When choosing seafood, shop with all your senses, and don’t be bashful. At the market, look first: fish should be stored on top of ice with good drainage and meet the standards listed below. Then trust your nose; if the shop or counter at the market smells “off” consider another source. It’s okay to ask to smell and see your fish before it gets wrapped up and priced—again, if it smells unpleasant, you are not obliged to make the purchase. Once you’ve chosen your fish, get it home, store it in the refrigerator, and use it as soon as possible.
If buying whole or portioned fish, not wrapped in plastic, look for:
- Clear eyes (on whole fish)—not cloudy or blood stained and not sunken in the socket.
- Bright red (or maroon) gills (on whole fish). Gently pull them back and look; if they’re faded the fish has been out of the water too long.
- If the fish has not been scaled, the scales ought to be shiny and tight.
- If the fish has been scaled, look for flesh that is not dull.
- The flesh should be firm with a slight spring when gently pressed.
- Any liquid that collects should be clear, not cloudy.
- Look for fish that is moist and uniform (no dry spots or dents).
Shellfish should also be stored on ice with good drainage, and shellfish should still be alive (with the exception of scallops) when purchased. If the shells are open before cooking, give them a gentle tap—if they do not close, do not purchase or eat them. If they do not open when cooked, do not eat those, either.
Frozen seafood is a terrific option, especially shrimp, because so many fishing boats use Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) methods aboard ships that go out for days or weeks at time. Seafood is cleaned and flash-frozen right on the ships. It is, however, harder to determine quality. In this case, avoid freezer burn and once defrosted, the seafood should not have off odors or discoloration.
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