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Canned & Salted Fish and Seafood Products

Since ancient times...

The passage of Bluefin and other tuna through the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar on their migration from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea (May - June) and the return (July - September), has promoted the development of fisheries and related processing industries on the Cadiz coast from ancient times to present today.

There are references of the salt fish trade by the Phoenicians as far back as the 7th century B.C. This civilization was already capturing tuna in the waters of the Strait with gear that was very similar to that of the almadraba system, still fully operating to this day. The salted fish from the Gulf of Cadiz was greatly develpoed in times of the Roman civilization, when factories prospered along the Andalusian coast. The city of Baelo Claudia (now known as Bolonia, belonging to Tarifa) stands out among the main producers, as do others like Carteia (Algeciras) and Baessipo (Barbate). The garum developed in these enclaves was quite famous, an essential sauce in Roman times, made from fermented fish entrails.

The activity in the almadrabas also remained functioning during the Muslim period and was largely extended between the 13th and 18th centuries, a period in which its operation was under the monopoly of the Ducal House of Medina Sidonia. Parallel to the fishing activity, there was the development of a canning and salting industry along the path of the fish, taking advantage of the proximity of salt mines that produced the abundant salt needed for processing. The 19th century brought a significant boom in the canning industry, greatly aided by innovations such as tin packaging and the sterilization method of Pasteur. An active canning sector was thus developed, establishing modern canneries, some of which have survived to this day.

The salting industry

The salting technique, or salazones, as the products are known in the region, dates back to Phoenician times, enduring all the different civilizations that have populated the Cadiz coast until present day. Salting was aimed at preserving the fish longer, based on a process of salting and drying. Current production is based on the traditional methods of ancient origins.

There are several types of salted products currently being prepared in the area:

  • Mojama (dried salted tuna): the most famous, it has a special place in the list of products that make up the Spanish gourmet offer. It is made with tuna fillets, cut into strips, treated with salt, rinsed and then dried, and usually vacuum packed. Mojama is obtained from the loins of either the great Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) or other tuna species. At present, an important part of its production is carried out with the tuna known as Rabil, the Yellowfin (Thunnus albacares).
  • Huevas (roe): made from the so-called grain roe, it is one of the most popular salted products, as well as most laborious in preparation, which remains purely carried out by hand.
  • Atún de ijar (tuna flank): is the salted flank, or belly or ventresca of the tuna, a very juicy piece, interspersed with the fat of fish. It undergoes a slightly different process to that of previous products, as it is not salted dry, but rather made by immersing it in brine, with subsequent drying. This process recalls the one used in Roman times to preserve tuna.
  • Sarda (small tuna): is the salting of the species called Albacore or Little Tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) which is made by the same process as the tuna flank. It is usually sold filleted and packed in olive oil.
  • Bonito (Atlantic bonito): prepared with the flavorful meat of the Sarda Sarda species. The process is similar to that of the roe, but in this case the whole gutted fish is subjected to salting, given its smaller size. It is sold whole or filleted and packed in oil.

The most recommended way to enjoy these preparations is finely chopped and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by picos or other breadstick products. Mojama is also taken with sprinkled fried almonds, as well as the olive oil, a very tasty tapa. These products can also be added to salads and other cold dishes, contributing their intense flavor, or, their pairing with the fine and fragrant wines of Jerez and Manzanilla from Sanlúcar is perfect.

The fine canned products

If anything distinguishes the canning industry in Cadiz is its artisan character, maintaining the traditional elaboration of the products coming from the tasty fish of this generous coast, especially from the tuna family. The fish more commonly used as raw materials are Melva (Frigate or Bullet tuna), Caballa (Mackerel), Almadraba tuna (Bluefin), Rabil tuna (Yellowfin), sardines and octopus.

The process follows a series of stages that usually involve labor-intensive dedication, usually carried out by women. It starts with the preparation of fish, including gutting and washing with water. Then the product is cooked in water with salt. The peeling is done entirely by hand, a differentiating factor of these canned products, without any chemicals, allowing the fish to maintain its natural characteristics. Next, it is manually placed in the container, which can be glass or tin, in a process called the estiba (literally, stowing or loading). After this, the packaging is sealed and finally submitted to sterilization, which will ensure the preservation of the product for a long period of time.

Canned Caballa (Scomber japonicus and Scomber coli) and Melva (Auxis rochei and Auxis thazard) from the area are produced under a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) with European recognition, safeguarding the quality and identity of these products and their craftsmanship. Among the Melva, the smaller Melva canutera (Bullet tuna) stands out, with whiter meat and a mild and exquisite taste.

From the cutting of the almadraba tuna - called "ronqueo" - you get a variety of parts that produce much appreciated canned products. The quality of Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), its raw material, is a clear differentiating factor. Among the parts of the tuna that are retained are the morrillo (just above the belly), tarantelo (at the back of the head), lomo (loin), tronco (trunk) and huevas (roe).

Quality canned products are also made from the Yellowfin tuna, usually smaller than the almadraba tuna. The most common parts are usually the lomo (loin), morrillo (just above the belly), and ventresca (belly).

Although the most common presentation of these products is usually preserved in oil, in the case of tuna, it can also applied in other recipes, like Atún en Manteca (tuna in lard),  Atún encebollado (tuna with onion) o el Atún mechado (stewed tuna).

Sardines (Sardina pilchardus) also produce tasty and healthy canned products. In the province of Cadiz, the most commonly found are sardinillas en aceite (small sardines in olive oil),  very fine-tasting and quite popular in this area.

Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is a common species on the coast of Cadiz and its canned products, also made with artisan craft, are part of the range of local specialties.

Other seafood specialties, common in the Campo de Gibraltar region, are Langostillos (Tuberculate cockle) and Concha Fina (Smooth Venus shell). The langostillo (Acanthocardia tuberculata) is a kind of cockle, larger, with a singular shape and thick shell, cream colored with pink or brown spots. The concha fina (Callista Chione), also known as almejón de sangre, is a bivalve mollusk that inhabits the sandy sea-bottoms or areas with small pebbles, common in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. Both specialties are canned "natural".

Culinary uses

Canned seafood specialties from Cadiz offer a wide range of culinary uses; they are quite versatile. Excellent in salads, as stuffing for tomatoes, eggplant and other vegetables, very tasty in omelets, empanadas and pies, croquettes, pasta dishes... A myriad of options as a quality ingredient, for culinary preparations of both chefs and amateurs.

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