Briny Bites

Galician seafood, fresh from the tin.

Michael Kraus

The idea of preparing an appetizer just by opening a can might sound hopelessly 1950s to many Americans (spam, anyone?), but in Spain the practice remains as common as arguing about politics. There, some of the finest seafood is often served right from the tin. The best of this seafood comes from the northwestern region of Galicia, where the catch that emerges from the area's cold, turbulent waters has been prized for centuries for its superior quality. A local canning industry was born there more than two hundred years ago to preserve the perishable bounty.

Up to now, I've had to travel to Spain to savor the finest of these briny delicacies, but recently I tasted some from Los Peperetes, a Galician company that exports to the United States. There were cockles that tasted simply and utterly of the sea; plump, earthy mussels enrobed in a vinegary escabeche sauce; and succulent razor clams. Each was every bit as good as those I've had on Spanish soil.

Like many Galicians, Los Peperetes's owner and founder, Jesus Lorenzo, began getting his hands wet when he was a little boy, gathering cockles for his grandfather's canning company. He eventually took up canning, too, but on a smaller scale: all the company's seafood is cooked in small batches and packed by hand. "When the business started, in 1993, we produced only 20 cans per day," recounts Lorenzo's daughter Belen. The company was also the first to can delicate percebes (gooseneck barnacles still in their shells), which command a particularly high price because of the risks faced by the percebeiros who retrieve them from the rocks in often deadly surf.

Los Peperetes's other selections include exquisite baby squid and octopus, which Belen says can be heated in the olive oil they're packed in and served with rice or potatoes, though she maintains that the company's other offerings, in saltwater or vinegar, are best eaten with nothing more than a chilled glass of albariño (political debate optional). Tins of Los Peperetes's seafood range from $13.95 to $64.50 each. To order, call La Tienda at 800/710-4304 or visit www.latienda.com.