Get to Know Your Fish in Tenerife and the Canary Islands

I’m a fish and seafood fan so living in the Canary Islands is a bit like being a kid let loose in a sweet shop. The fish counters in the big supermarkets on Tenerife are filled with specimens that range from monstrous to tiddlers and colourful beauties to deformed beasts.

Some are instantly recognisable, others mysterious denizens of the deep. But more often than not the names stuck into the ice beside each is  not one that will be known by English speaking fish fans; something that can pose a problem when ordering pescado in one of Tenerife’s restaurants.

Often there are English translations but some aren’t always accurate. Sea bass is regularly misidentified.

To help you land exactly the fishy fellow you want on your plate, here’s our guide to some of the fish you are likely to encounter on Tenerife’s menus.

Abadejo – Pollack

Anchoa – Anchovies

Anguila – Small eels, often served with scrambled eggs.

Atún Rojo – Red Tuna, better known as Bluefin Tuna.

Bacalao – Cod

Bocinegro – Sea Bream

Bonito – Skip-jack Tuna

Boquerones – Anchovies again, but this time marinated ones.

Burro – Grunt

Caballa – Mackerel

Cabrilla – Comber

Cherne – One of the most common fish dishes on Canarian menus causes confusion as it’s sometimes described as sea bass and sometimes grouper. It’s actually Wreckfish which is also known as Stone Bass or Bass Grouper; see why the confusion? What it definitely is not is Sea Bass.

Chicharro – Blue Jack Mackerel. Santa Cruceros are named after this.

Chopa – Black Sea Bream

Congrio – Conger Eel

Corvina – Brown Meagre

Dorado – This one is often passed off as Sea Bass, but it’s Gilthead Sea Bream.

Gallo – Megrin

Lenguado – Sole

Lubina – This really is Sea Bass.

Merluza – Hake

Mero – Dusky Grouper

Morena – Moray Eel

Pez Espada – Swordfish

Pampano – Blue Butterfish

Panga – Vietnamese Cobbler

Pargo – Common Sea Bream

Rabil – Yellowfin Tuna

Rape – Monkfish

Rascacio (also cabracho or cantarero) – Scorpion fish, one of our favourites.

Raya – Ray

Rodaballo – Turbot

Rubio – Tub Gurnard

Salmón – Salmon, an easy one.

Salmonete – Red Mullet

Sama – Opinion is divided on this one, some places say it’s Red Sea Bream but it might actually be Pink Dentex which sounds like something you put in your toothbrush.

Sardina – Sardines, another easy one.

Sargo – White Sea Bream

Tollos – Often classed simply as shark on English translations, tollos is sometimes also called a dogfish which is an umbrella term for a number of small species of shark. It’s latin name identifies tollos as a common smooth hound which is a houndshark. Anyway… it’s shark.

Trucha – Trout

Vieja – Parrot Fish, a Tenerife favourite.

You’ll have noticed sea bream figures a lot. In some cases, even the English names might not be familiar, so there’s only one way to find out what it tastes like… be adventurous and order it. If it’s on a menu, it’s there for a reason.

Part II, the Real Tenerife guide to identifying shellfish on Spanish menus.

38 Comments

  1. You site is so excellent! I have a question…

    I love fish but I have a severe shellfish allergy. Are there any dishes I should avoid?

  2. The corvina here is called a brown meagre in English – it looks a bit like a bass. But the name corvina is applied to all sorts of fish in various parts of the world so it’s one of the confusing ones. Some types of sea bass are called corvina in Pacific areas.

    I didn’t know the brotola but it looks like it’s a type of hake (merluza in the Canary Islands.

  3. a friend was on holiday in tenerife, she had a fish dish of salmon with a sauce, she loved it, she cant remember what the sauce was called, only that it started with rou, can you help identify the sauce ?

    • It’s a difficult one David. Although you get salmon on Tenerife, it isn’t really a local fish and I can’t think of any local sauces that start with ‘rou’. Do you know the name of the restaurant, where it was on Tenerife, or if it was a traditional Canario restaurant?

  4. Hi!

    Useful website thanks.

    Wondered if you could guess the fish for us too!

    We stayed at the Hotel Paradise Costa Taurito (GC) a few years ago and ate fish that was freshly cooked on a hotplate with a little oil, 2 mins each side. It was light and extremely tasty (rather like our dabs). We asked the chef what it was called but he did not know, just saying it came in daily from the fishing boats in the next village along the coast – Puerto De Mogan – any ideas?
    Thanks
    Ian & Laura

    • It could be any number of local fish. It might have been some sort of bream as they come under a whole load of names. But that’s a total guess. As you can see from the list, we’re fish rich in the Canary Islands 🙂

  5. Dear Jack,
    forty years ago I got a job fishing in Arguineguin, Gran Canaria. Our principal catch was sardinas, chicharros and bogas. You don’t mention the latter – do you know what they are?

      • Cheers, Jack. I googled ‘bogas’ myself, of course, but was mysteriously unable to come up with anything. I don’t have your touch, obviously. Thanks.

  6. hi Jack, To prepared on a charcoal grill, what is the best local fish in Tenerife? at what size? thank you, Morten

  7. Very informative. I am trying to learn the various fish that I can buy from the fish co-operative in Puerto Mogan.
    Some tips on how to cook vieja and caballla without a grill or BBQ would be very helpful please.
    Kind regards

    • Two of our favourite fish. Personally, I’d keep it simple and pan fry them whole in a little olive oil after rubbing a little salt and pepper into the skin and the gutted cavity. When we do it we tend to fry them for about 3/4 minutes a side to keep the skin crispy and the flesh moist and flaky and not too dry.

  8. Whilst being very informative I think you will find that boquerones are in fact Whitebate not Anchovies and ar a completely different colour.

    • Thanks Geoff and an interesting comment. A lot of debate has taken place about what exactly boquerones/anchovies are. There is no specific fish called whitebait, it’s an umbrella term for young, small fish which are fried (a bit like gueldes on Tenerife). It’s said that it is the curing/marinating process which causes the difference in colour between boquerones and the brown salty anchovies you get in jars and on pizzas.

  9. Hi there, we’re in the Canaries & love trying the fresh whole fish. Today we bought Sama Fresca & Salemas Fresca. One of them is black inside, think its the Salemas. Please could you tell us what it is & if its okay to eat. I assume it is as she gutted & cleaned it for us. What kind of fish are these, we’re going to try half each 🙂
    Thank you for your descriptions, we would like to try the Viejas next 🙂
    Also Im a bi of a novice at cooking whole fish so tend to pop them into the hottest oven, I always blot dry then salt & pepper rub (paprika, garlic anything I can lay my hands on) the skin, but never quite manage to get it crispy – always the eyes are white before the skin is crisp. Any ideas how to get it crisp in the oven without over cooking the fish. Im always afraid a whole fish wouldn’t cook properly if I fry it.
    Many thanks

    • The salemas (the one with yellow stripes along the side) is a type of bream also sometimes known as salemas porgy. It’s an interesting fish as eating parts of it has been known to cause hallucinations, but I think that’s the head 🙂 It’s commonly on sale in our local supermarket so it must be generally fine to eat. I’ve never cooked it so I don’t know if the black is okay or not, but the photos I’ve seen of it being prepared show there’s what looks like a black section on the upper back close to the head. The rest of the flesh is pinky white. I’m not great at getting fish skin crispy myself and usually grill or steam whole fish, so can’t help you with that one, sorry.

    • It is a type of sea bream Joanne – there are a lot of variations of bream here. This one is also known as dentex in English, the chacarona part identifies it as Canarian dentex. But it’s bream 🙂

  10. Hi Jack, when I’m windsurfing here on Fuerteventura I often see a fish skimming across the surface at speed just out of the water. They are usually about 2 or 3 feet long with a sword like head similar to a gar. Apparently they can be more of a problem to me than the sharks I see all the time, usually hammerhead, as they can inadvertently spear you. Any idea what they are in case one ever gets me and I have to explain to the doctors what it was?

    • Hi Paul,
      Apologies for not replying sooner, we’ve been hiking in Bavaria over the last two weeks. I’ve no idea what that fish is. I’ve just checked a poster I have which lists the fish commonly found in the waters around Tenerife and there isn’t one on it which matches that description. I know when we travel around the islands we sometimes find fish on menus you don’t see on menus on other Canary Islands, so there could be a few different species around Fuerteventura.

  11. I bought 2 salemas frescos in the local supermarket here in Puerto de la Cruz (they descaled & gutted them for me) and simply grilled them with some salt garlic lemon olive oil & coriander … they turned out fine. The black bit seemed to be a thin veil or membrane which easily peeled away leaving the pinky white flesh. Delicious eating, and so far no hallucinogenic aftershock.

    • Cantarero threw me as on the few occasions I’ve seen it on menus here it tends to be called rascacio or cabracho. It can happen with some types of fish and seafood, different names on different Canary Islands. I had one on La Palma not so long ago (rascacio in that instance) and it is a cracker of a fish. I’ll add both. Cheers for reminding me about them.

    • Hi Chris, as far as I understand it, for recreational fishing from the rocks or harbour you need to have a 3rd class licence. You can apply for these via Canary Islands Government website but if you don’t understand Spanish you might find it a bit of a nightmare. I’d pop into the closest Tourist Board office and ask for their assistance.

  12. Hi Jack, just back from Tenerife and had a fish called Stoker in our hotel a couple of nights…was a flaky white fish that tasted not dissimilar to salmon. Do you know what this could have been as I can’t find it anywhere P.S. some of the food translations at the hotel weren’t great haha

    • I’ve never seen reference to a stoker fish on any menu. It sounds like the hotel came up with their own name for it. It’s one of the reasons we always ask for a Spanish menu as in our early days we were caught out by a lot of poor translations – fish pie turning out to a be a cold and wobbly terrine in one restaurant. Stoker in Spanish could be translated as fogonero which is also a fish – pollock.

  13. Great little fishy thread 🙂
    I come to the canaries pretty often to fish and have caught some pretty amazing species.
    Scorpion fish I didn’t realise were edible, I’ve put loads back, damn!
    One fish that doesn’t feature on your list which I’d highly recommend is barracuda, I can’t remember it’s spanish name but locals call it barra. They are my favorite fish to bbq, really steak like white flesh similar to paz (swordfish).
    The licence is pretty easy to get but I could imagine a pain of you don’t speak Spanish. It does involve running around from the correct departments in the local official buildings to banks to pay (about €30) then back to the office to have it validated. I’ve done this a good few times (they last for 3 years and cover all the island) but I never receive the card through the post in the UK, although you’re free to fish with the paper pussy they give you over the counter.

    • Interesting Ben, I’ve never seen barracuda on a menu as far as I can remember (I usually go for menu items I’ve never tried) but there are some fish you only see on menus on specific islands. Scorpion fish is really tasty; try it when you get the chance.

  14. we stayed in las americas recently and every night commercial boats line up offshore and shine lamps into the sea can you say what they are fishing for they seem to spend all night at this fishing .cannot find any references to this on the web thank you.

    • It’s a good question Ivan and the quick answer is I don’t know. I do know that at times of the year fishing boats from around the Canaries use Los Cristianos as a base when it’s been reported bluefin tuna are in the area, the fish come through the channel between La Gomera and Tenerife, and the boats go out to catch them at night. But I don’t know if that’s the same as the ones which line up not far from the shore.

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