Spanish Pantry Staples
(Secrets from a Spanish Kitchen)
February 2023 – The Spanish Radish Blog
Spanish pantry staples are one of the first things that we discovered and fell in love with when we moved to Spain. It was something of an eye-opener that Spanish food was not only incredibly tasty but many favorites have been given an extended shelf life and are simple Spanish pantry recipes.
Discover the beauty and convenience of Spanish cooking that’ll have you cooking deliciously easy tapas, quick and filling main meals, and much more in no time! Let’s discover what’s in the pantry of a typical Spanish home and find a few secrets from a Spanish kitchen along the way.
Table of contents:
- Olive oil
- Herbs and spices
- Tinned pantry goods
- Tinned Olives
- Dried pantry Goods
Undoubtedly, the most quintessential item in every Spanish pantry is good-quality olive oil. Spain is the leading olive oil-producing country in the world and exports on average over 1,000,000 metric tonnes of olive oil annually.
When it comes to olive oil, it’s extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that is used most frequently in cooking and food and you’ll find excellent quality EVOO used in Spanish kitchens. Whether it’s drizzled on salads or cheese, used to make tasty sauces, or added to a recipe for frying or baking, EVOO is one ingredient that many cannot do without.
Want to discover the incredible health benefits of extra virgin olive oil? Check out this complete guide on Olive oil nutrition facts.
In Spain, good quality Spanish olive oil is very affordable and available in any supermarket or specialty food stores. The average cost is around EUR €5.00 (USD $5.50) per liter for a bottle of EVOO. Of course, boutique olive oil producers also sell exceptional quality olive oil and these prices vary greatly.
Check out our recent article on 15 of the best Extra Virgin olive oils to try in 2023.
Herbs and Spices in Spanish cooking
As a herb that grows wild all over Spain, it’s no surprise that rosemary can be found in many Spanish recipes. Rosemary is used liberally in rice and seafood dishes, used in seasoning soups and stews, and is even used to coat Manchego cheese and make ‘Queso Romero’, which is perhaps one of Spain’s lesser-known types of cheese (and well worth trying if you ever get chance!).
Rosemary is used either dried or fresh and it’s common to find fresh bunches of rosemary in a vase of water in many Spanish kitchens. Dried rosemary is also very common, and it’s a great way to store herbs and add flavor to any dish!
When it comes to spices used in Spanish cooking, paprika is easily the most recognizable for its distinctive flavoring and color. There are three main varieties of Spanish paprika:
- Hot paprika (Pimentón Picante)
- Smoked paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)
- Sweet paprika (Pimentón Dulce)
While each has its own distinctive flavor and intensity, Pimentón de la Vera is perhaps the most popular in Spanish kitchens. The prized Vera pepper is grown in the regions of La Vera, Campo Arañuelo, Valle del Ambroz, Valle del Alagón, and Arrago, all located in Extremadura in central Spain.
Hot paprika (Pimentón Picante)
As the name suggests, hot paprika has a distinctive ‘spice’ and it has a kick to it! It’s made from spicy red chili peppers, versus sweet red peppers. While it’s the hottest of the paprikas, it’s nowhere near as hot as other types of chili. It’s great for adding a lingering heat and mildly spicy element to a dish.
Hot paprika lends itself to stronger flavored dishes, where the flavor of sweet paprika would be lost. It’s commonly used in soups, hot curries, and stews.
Smoked paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)
Smoked paprika is made from peppers that are smoked or charred, then crushed and ground up. The intensity of the smokiness and flavor depends on the types of pepper used and the method of smoking.
Its flavor is the strongest of all three paprikas so it can easily take over a meal, and often make a meal.
Sweet paprika (Pimentón Dulce)
Used around the world, sweet paprika is a versatile spice thanks to its mild flavor. A sprinkle of this won’t overpower too many dishes or ingredients, although the color may be striking (often the desired effect).
Sweet paprika is commonly found in mild or sweet curries, stir-fries, and in seafood dishes. It’s a popular party pleaser too, and often makes an appearance on top of cream cheese and curried deviled eggs. Season your seafood or meat dishes with sweet paprika to add some delicious flavor.
Looking to discover more about Spanish paprika? Check out our complete Spanish paprika guide here.
Tinned pantry goods
- Tinned mussels (Mejillones)
- Tinned fish (Sardines/Mackerel)
- Tinned squid
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned olives
Spain is renowned for its extensive range of tinned produce, and a wander through any supermarket yields an incredible display of the sheer range and quality of products available. Everything from olives, oysters, and anchovies, to artichokes and asparagus, comes in convenient, pantry-perfect tinned packages.
Let’s take a dive into the classic Spanish pantry and see what’s commonly on the shelves.
Tinned mussels (Mejillones)
When it comes to Spanish pantry staples, tinned mussels are usually kept well stocked inside most Spanish kitchens, and for good reason. Tinned mussels are delicious, come in a range of different flavors, and can be used to make quick and easy tapas, or added to a rice or pasta dish to become a meal.
Here are just a few of the flavors of the mussels you can find on most Spanish supermarket shelves:
- Mussels in tomato sauce
- Mussels a la Marinera (mussels seasoned with onion and/or chives)
- Mussels with lemon
- Mussels with chili
- Mussels Escabeche (mussels marinaded in spices and vinegar)
- Mussels in paprika oil
Tinned fish (Sardines/Mackerel)
For most people outside of Spain, when you mention tinned fish, it’s usually a tin of tuna that comes to mind. But here in Spain, tinned fish is an expansive journey into some of the most delicious morsels you can find on a pantry shelf.
From tinned mackerel doused in tomato salsa, sardines soaked in delicious olive oil and garlic, sardines in lemon and brine, or sardines in chili and lime, there is literally a massive variety of tinned fish goods that are full of flavor straight out of the tin. Serve with some fresh bread and you’ve got a tapas or tasty snack that’s likely to last seconds!
Tinned Squid (Tacos de Potón)
Perhaps one of the most favored culinary delights to ever hit the pantry shelf is the ‘Tacos de Potón’, or marinated squid. These little bite-sized morcels are available in a variety of flavors, all of which are best served along with some fresh bread.
Tinned squid and cuttlefish flavors include:
- Squid pieces marinated in garlic sauce (Potón al Ajillo Tacos)
- Squid marinated in onion and/or chives (Tacos de Potón)
- Squid in marinara sauce (Potón tacos de marinara)
- Squid in sunflower oil (Tacos de pota en aceite de girasol)
- Squid in American salsa (Calamares en salsa Americana)
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to tasty tinned vegetables in Spain. Most places offer tinned staples such as potatoes, beans, peas, and corn, but where Spain stands out is the more unusual tinned veggies such as tinned artichoke hearts, tinned asparagus, tinned roasted bell pepper, tinned marinated garlic, and much more.
Not only is the tinned veg range quite spectacular, the quality is also exceptional and it’s very common for many Spanish dishes to be made using tinned veggies for convenience!
Tinned marinated olives, be it the green, red, black, or stuffed variety are found everywhere in Spain and are served as a tapas staple all over the country. When it comes to tinned olives, you’ll likely never find a better range than what’s on offer in Spain.
Want to make your own marinated olives/ check out this easy marinated olives recipe!
Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world, but that doesn’t mean all the olives get crushed to make oil. There are plenty of fantastic Spanish olive varieties that are served as table olives.
Spanish olive flavors:
- Black olives in brine
- Green olives with seeds/without seeds
- Gordal olives (the large fat green olives)
- Green olives stuffed with red pepper
- Green olives stuffed with anchovies
- Green olives stuffed with almonds
Spanish olive varieties
The most prominent olive-growing region in Spain is Andalusia, located in southern Spain where the climate is hot and very dry with little rainfall. While a majority of olives are used for producing olive oil, there are plenty that are used to produce delicious, full-flavored table olives.
Gordal (Aceituna Gordal de Sevilla)
In Spain, the most common variety of olives is Gordal Olives (which translates to “fat one”) from the Andalusia region, Southern Spain. These large green olives are plump and have a rich full flavor with little bitterness.
This brine-cured olive is oval in shape and is commonly stuffed with red pepper, almond, or anchovy. They have a soft buttery flavor and are often served cracked as a tapas alongside pickled or fresh garlic.
Native to the Spanish city of Arbeca, Arbequina olives are prized for their fruity flavor and firm, meaty texture. In color, Arbequina olives range from light pink to a deep earthy orange color. They are usually used for producing olive oil but can be found in Spain served as table olives.
Aceituna Aloreña de Málaga
Available seasonally from around the city of Malaga in southern Spain, Aloreña de Málaga olives are brine-cured table olives that are pale green in color and have a crisp flavor. They have a low concentration of oleuropein and can be cured in water and salt. They are most commonly served split and seasoned with herbs such as thyme, fennel, or rosemary.
Aceituna de Mallorca
Aceituna de Mallorca is a popular variety of table olives grown exclusively on the Balearic Island of Mallorca. These olives are either black or dark green, depending on their time of harvest.
- Rice and fideua
- Legumes, beans, and chickpeas
Ah yes, that lower shelf of the pantry. In some pantries outside of Spain, the dried goods section is somewhat neglected, stacked with large jars or containers that sit in the dark.
But here in Spain, this is where the magic happens, and where you’ll likely find an impressive array of dried pantry goods used to make many of Spain’s most spectacular culinary treats!
Rice and Fideua
Without a doubt, paella is the undisputed king of authentic Spanish cuisine (paella Valenciana is the original, so it comes as no surprise that rice is considered far more than a simple dried goods pantry item.
Bomba and Calasparra rice
There are two main varieties of Spanish rice: Bomba rice from the Valencia region and Calasparra rice, from the region of Murcia. Where you are served a paella or rice dish will depend on the rice used.
Fideuà / Fideo
Another dried pantry staple that is somewhat lesser known outside of Spain is Fideua, which is a type of Spanish noodle or pasta. Fideua has a humorous backstory of how it came to be (you can find the fideua story here), and the humble Valencian noodle comes in a few different varieties. You’ll find most brands of Fideua (also called fideo) use a numbering system.
The most common is the thin vermicelli-like noodle, and this is often referred to by many brands as ‘Fideo’, and there are often 3 or 4 different sizes or ‘grades’ of the fideo pasta, usually cataloged as Fideo No. 1, 2, 3, 4, or No. 5.
These thin fideos cook a little faster than the fatter round-shaped fideuà pasta, so it’s worth trying out a few different types to see what you like best.
Spanish fideuà pasta looks a lot like small macaroni elbow pasta in shape and size. It takes a little longer to prepare compared to the thinner variety of fideo mentioned above. I prefer the fideuà pasta, mainly because of the lovely texture of the noodles and how they blend well with the seafood and other ingredients.
Check out these tasty Spanish rice and fideua recipes:
- Paella Valencia (Paella Valenciana)
- Seafood Paella (Paella de Marisco)
- Arroz con Pollo (Spanish Chicken with rice)
- Arroz al Horno (Spanish-Style Oven-Baked Rice)
- Spanish oven-baked rice with cauliflower and green beans
- Vegan Arroz al Horno (Valencian Oven-Baked Rice)
- Spanish one-pot rice (Arros Caldoso)
- Fideua with Seafood (Fideuà de Marisco)
- Fideua with Black Squid Ink (Fideuà negra)
- Spanish rice pudding (Arroz con Leche)
Legumes, beans, and Chickpeas
When it comes to making big-batch meals that cost the coins in your pocket, you can’t go past dried legumes, beans, and chickpea recipes, and Spain has plenty of them!
Whether it’s chickpeas used in warming vegan stews, tasty bean recipes, or lentils that are gently simmered down with a selection of Spanish spices, there are plenty of reasons to keep your dried legumes, beans, and chickpeas stocked up for a rainy day.
Here are just a few of our favorite recipes that use dried legumes, lentils, beans, or chickpeas. All of these recipes are budget-friendly, healthy, and loaded with essential nutrients.
- Smoky butterbean stew with sweet potato and kale – vegan
- Mediterranean Lentil and Spinach Stew – vegan
- Chickpea Stew (Potaje de Garbanzos) – vegan
- Mediterranean Hummus – vegan
- Spinach with chickpeas (Espinacas con garbanzos) – vegan
- Asturian bean stew (Fabada Asturiana)
Bread or ‘pan’ as it is known in Spain is something of a love affair with freshness and it’s a common sight to see steaming baguettes, barras, or masa madre (“mother dough” = sourdough) being taken by early bird customers from the local panadería (bakery).
But tucked away in the darkest corner of most Spanish pantries is a little covered basket and inside you’ll find the ends of bread from days past, now rock hard and inedible, but cherished all the same, for their new life, as breadcrumbs.
In Spanish kitchens, It is very common to see stale hard bread grated into breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a great thickener of stews, help empanada ingredients stick together, and generally allow ingredients to stretch further with little fuss and no extra cost.
All you need is a box grater and some stale bread and you can quickly make breadcrumbs to suit any recipes that require them. It’s even used in tasty sauces like this Mojo sauce recipe. Of course, there’s no wastage and here at Spanish Radish HQ, we love this thrifty cooking tip we have learned along our journey into Spanish cuisine!
Want to check out more produce from Spain?
Check out our regional foodie guides.
Our foodie guides are jam-packed with recipe ideas, travel tips, and where to find the best dishes in Spain.
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