A melva montadito with (a lot of) mayonnaise is one of the enormous pleasures that I have had the honor of experiencing for much of my existence in Andalusia: the modalities with red pepper or without sauce are accessory for me, but I also accept them as valid . This Andalusian family of almadraba tuna -and a neighbor of mackerel- lives a bit overshadowed by the enormous cult of these other wonders of the sea, but in this article we are going to recommend some options so that you can prepare delicious things with them, as we have already told you. We have counted on other occasions.
Melva is one of those very local products that you don’t realize is until you change your place of residence and, suddenly, they stop appearing normally in the supermarkets of your new destination. For those who do not know, the raw material used in these preserves “comes from the Auxis rochei and Auxis thazard species, fish with a robust, elongated and rounded body, with a short snout and two widely separated dorsal fins,” says the Regulatory council of melva geographical indications of Andalusia.
Here we find the difference between the two varieties that you will find in stores: the almadraba (or without any surname) and the canutera. The first is larger and has a higher concentration of fat; the second, smaller, has a meatier texture and a more intense flavor. It usually has a more gourmet presentation and, ultimately, is more expensive. A note: although melva is mostly eaten canned, canutera is still in season well into autumn, so if you’re in the area and want to cook it fresh, buy it and cook it with onions in the oven for a very short time (you have to take into account Note that it is less fatty than mackerel and can dry out quickly), a recipe that is also a religion in the area.
It belongs to the Canning Industry of Tarifa SL, which also has other brands and is the immediate response-reaction to the word “merva” that any person from Western Andalusia responds to (just like “April” is followed by “Cerral”, as everybody knows). This company markets different products and, obviously, originates from this town on the southern tip of the peninsula, where they also work with other products such as sardines, tuna, mackerel and derivatives such as their roe.
In its factory, women are the protagonists of the cutting, fleshing and peeling of the loins by hand once cooked in brine. As in most brands, it is sold in olive oil, sunflower oil and Catalan sauce -a marinade with sweet paprika-, in various sizes of cans or glass jars. Of this brand classicism, we must highlight the normal variety, the can of fillets -generous- in olive oil that is worth €3.30 on its website and it is delicious in a thousand ways. Simple, basic, but to the point and very good.
The Herpac salted cannery is also one of the most consumed brands in Andalusia. He is from another mythical fishing city, Barbate, about 45 kilometers north along the Atlantic coast of the province of Cádiz. I would say that it is a bit saltier than the previous one, so it is more suitable for dressings than for montaditos. In this brand you can also find wonders such as tuna preserved in lard, a product that is given a thousand breakfast outlets and that combines perfectly with fish.
Its conservation is very reminiscent of that of the bonito from the north: it is not surprising, taking into account the great relationship that existed between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th between Cantabria and the Seville-Cádiz axis -Jerez included-, leaving behind many grocery stores that have later led to some of the best-known bars, such as Butter House in Cadiz and Saint Eloy either Laredo in Seville, where they serve canned melva very frequently, and it is easy to see this brand swarming. Committed to recommending, I prefer the fine version, the canutera -which is also very rich in olive oil- six euros the small can of 125 grams in its online store.
This article would have been cheeky without the collaboration of Carlos Doncel, a local from Zahar and a foodie with a great knowledge of the territory. The journalist recalls that “melva is a second cousin from the father of the tuna”, and recommends this brand from the Salpesca cannery, also from Barbate: “Here they treat this family better than their servants did Carlos III”. Doncel alludes to this brand because “it has been making products with the fish that arrive at the fish market in this Cadiz town for more than 30 years and its good work is evident in the flavor and in being well loaded with fillets,” he adds.
My namesake says that he loves to add the logs to some aliñás potatoes or a salad of roasted peppers, “although when they are of such remarkable quality I can’t resist: I put them directly on a plate and I have left over up to my fork”. In the factory – where they also prepare salted, smoked and semi-preserved marine products, up to 70 products in total – they even have a tuna museum where the immersive experience allows you to see a trap from the point of view of the fish and get a little under its skin. In his online store you can find the small can of canutera a €5.35.
If we want a slightly different and slightly sophisticated version, there is also the Pesasur brand, which has a collaboration with the famous Aponiente restaurant in El Puerto de Santa María. Although this canning company takes us to Ayamonte, in Huelva, on the border with Portugal, a curious thing because melvas are usually fished in the Mediterranean part of the Andalusian coast, while the canning industry is more focused on the Atlantic.
From his collaboration with Ángel León, seven preserves come out in different sauces – from a red curry to a Moroccan-style one, passing through a Perigord or a pickled carrot – that go very well on a hot dish, such as a vegetable stew. I tried the melva a la roteña, which they sell to €6.47 in a 195-gram glass jar on its website, and I especially liked it for its original flavor.
Continuing along the coast of Huelva, on Isla Cristina, is this brand of the canning company Unión salazonera isleña. An interesting feature for non-Andalusians is that it is the easiest to find in normal supermarkets outside the territory -apart from the gourmet sections-, it also has very good quality and a wide variety of sizes and different purchase options. They also have a wide variety of salted fish such as cod, anchovies or ling roe, and fish and prawn pâtés, as well as their own brand of sea salt.
The one that is never lacking in my pantry is the one that comes with piquillo peppers -this is not an accessory, long live the exceptions-, for its flavor and texture and because it asks for nothing more than to open the can to have half a meal ready or a snack of luxury quickly and easily. Over boiled potatoes or white rice, with a slice of good loaf bread, as a sandwich or surrounded by chips and other appetizer delights, there is always a place for her at my table. The small can costs €2.86 on its website (and it is usually not much more expensive in supermarkets).
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