Marine creatures

Crete has a long tradition of catching and cooking marine molluscs, such as squids (loligo vulgaris) (in Greek “kalamaria”), European flying squids (todarodes sagittatus) (in Greek “thrapsala”), cuttlefish (sepia) (in Greek “soupies”), octopuses, prawns, sea urchins (in Greek “achini”) and more rarely small crabs and sea snails. These spieces abound in the seas around Crete and form a significant part of Cretan diet.

Molluscs are low in fats and form great sources of protein, vitamins (such as vitamins B12, A and riboflavin). They are also good sources of minerals, such as selenium (acting as antioxidant) and iron. The main downside of some marine molluscs, such as squid or cuttlefish, is the relatively high cholesterol content. However, moderate consumption of marine molluscs is beneficial for health and contributes to the healthiness of Cretans.

Squids and cuttlefish are eaten pan fried (dredged in flour), grilled or as risottos. Crete has a very long tradition in preparing delicious risottos, both meat and seafood based. The most typical seafood risotto is made with cuttlefish using also the ink of the cuttlefish which gives the risotto a characteristic black colour and a delicious taste (and slightly sticky texture). Cuttlefish is also cooked with potatoes or bitter greens with the use of its ink. The ink of the cuttlefish is not removed when chargrilling, also greatly adding to the taste of the grilled cuttlefish.

Prawns are eaten usually pan fried (dredged in flour) and more rarely boiled or grilled. Cretan waters are great sources of octopuses which are usually char grilled after being hit (necessary for softening them) and dried out. Smaller crabs, caught at night on rocky coastal areas, are pan fried whereas sea snails (caught in similar areas) are boiled.

A favourite activity of Cretan divers is to gather sea urchins and to collect their eggs after braking their shells. These together with olive oil and lemon, become a delicious urchin salad (“achinosalata”), one of the Cretan specialities with fantastic health benefits. Urchins apart from being rich in proteins, fiber as well as vitamins A and E, they contain a lot of iodine which has a characteristic calming effect!