Shellfish

Shellfish are highly perishable. Most molluscs (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops) are sold in the shell and should still be alive to guarantee freshness. Shells should be tightly closed. Crustaceans (prawns, lobster) should smell sea-fresh and show no sign of broken tails, claws or feelers which indicates frozen seafood which has been thawed. Bi-valves are the ones with two hinged shells, gastropods have a single shell, cephalopods, which include squid and octopus, have their "shell" on the inside in the form of a cartilage stiffener.
 

Prawn
gamba

Used generally, the word gamba includes all of what the English call prawns and the Americans call shrimp. The big, pinkish-tan prawns so appreciated for grilling are in Spanish called langostinos, which is not the same thing as that which the French call langoustine, which is called cigala in Spanish. The bigger the prawns, the higher the price. Some prawns at the market are frozen ones which have been defrosted for sale. Fresh ones appear more limpid, transparent and softer than the frozen, which have a slightly "cooked" look.

Dublin Bay Prawn
cigala

This is the French langoustine and what the Americans call sea crayfish. Like miniature lobsters, these creatures have small pincers and a tougher carapace than prawns. They are a coral colour with white tipping and do not change colour when cooked.

Lobster
langosta, bogavante

The langosta is the spiny lobster or rock lobster which has no claws, but long antennae appended from the head. The sweet, succulent meat comes from the tail. They are a reddish-brown colour before cooking. The bogavante is the true lobster, the French homard, with heavy claws containing good meat. It is a mottled greenish-black. Lobsters should be purchased alive. Frozen lobster tails are sold in most hypermarkets in Málaga.

Crab
cangrejo

Crab is much-prized for the sweet-tasting flesh inside the armour. Unfortunately, a good-sized crab weighing about a half-kilo doesn't really provide a lot of meat. The centolla is the spider crab, whose shell is covered with knobbly protuberances, the nécora is a tiny crab, often served as a tapa or cooked in soups. Buy crabs live, picking those which seem heavy for their size.

Crayfish
cangrejo
del río

Freshwater crayfish are a real delicacy. They look rather like prawns. Buy them alive and wiggling, cook immediately.

Oyster
ostra

As oyster beds proliferate, oysters have become more widely available and a little less pricey in recent times. They are safe to eat any time of the year. Buy oysters alive with shells tightly closed.

Clam
almeja

These range from tiny ones to those as big as a 2-euro coin. Their colour varies from grey to tan and they are lightly ridged. Shells should be tightly shut or should close when tapped. Discard open and broken ones. Don't refrigerate clams.

Cockle
berberecho

Rounder and bigger than clams, with deeply ridged shells. Purge them as for clams, then serve raw or steamed.

Venus Shell
concha fina

Beautiful smooth shells, the colour of mahogany. Buy them live. They can be soaked in salt water. Serve raw with lemon and salt.

Wedge Shell
coquina

Tine, wedge-shaped shells, brown-yellow-beige. Absolutely delicious. Prepare as for clams.

Razor-shell 
navaja

Long gold-brown rectangle, looking like a pen-knife. These can be eaten raw or steamed open. They're very good. Eat them with lots of lemon juice.

Mussel
mejillón

Mussels are highly nutritious and very digestible. Because the shells are so thin, a kilo of mussels provides more food than a kilo of clams or oysters. Mussels sold commercially are harvested from non-polluted waters and are safe to eat all year round, as long as they are alive. Shells should be tightly closed or close upon being tapped. Throw out any cracked or open ones or any that float.

Scallop
vieira

Also called pilgrim shell and coquille St. Jacques, this shellfish has a beautiful scalloped shell, which makes a serving dish for its contents. It was the symbol for the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, the shrine of St. James, patron saint of Spain. The name vieira comes from Galicia, where the scallop is most abundant. Scallops are available in southern markets only during the winter months.

Sea Snail
caracola

They come from tiny to pretty good-sized. Wash well, soak in salt water, cook in a court-bouillon for about 45 minutes and extract the dollop of flesh with a pin or toothpick.

Sea Urchin
erizo de mar

These hedgehogs of the sea, whose spines are always getting lodged in children's feet, are not commonly found in the markets. Alive and fresh, cut in half, the coral is extracted to eat raw with lemon.

Squid
calamar

Calamares may be an acquired taste, but they can get to be an addiction. They're delicious in many different ways. High in protein and other nutrients, squid are about 98 percent edible, so a good buy for the money. It is one of the few shellfish that doesn't seem to suffer from freezing. Squid is the one with the long, slender body pouch from which protrudes a head with short tentacles. Tiny ones are sometimes called chipirones or chopitos, though these may refer to cuttlefish as well.

Cuttlefish
jibia

A related creature, the cuttlefish body is much rounder than the squid. Its ink is the sepia of antiquity, its interior cartilage is the canary's cuttlebone. Not as tender as squid, cuttlefish is usually braised or stewed in a sauce.

Octopus
pulpo

The skin-diver's favourite bounty along the Spanish coast, the octopus is quite edible. Freshly caught, it's usually beaten against a stone to tenderize it. Home from the market, Spanish housewives usually resort to the pressure cooker. Otherwise it takes several hours of slow simmering. The octopus has a bulbous head and eight long tentacles lined with a double row of suction cups.