portuguese fish

Guide to Portuguese Fish

With almost 1000 km of coast (not even counting the islands) and at 200 km wide, it’s only natural that Portuguese cuisine contains an abundance of fish dishes. We are, after all, the country that eats the most fish per capita in Europe! The most emblematic Portuguese fish is bacalhau paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cod, which has been part of our history since the 16th century, during the first voyages of Portuguese sailors that took them to Newfoundland.

Popular Types of Portuguese Fish

portuguese fish
Bacalhau salgado Play normal audio Salted cod is the preferred and best-selling cod fish in Portugal, but it’s also possible to find fresh or frozen cod in the supermarket. You can buy it whole or ask for it to be cut into smaller pieces. Before cooking, it is necessary to soak the cod in water to remove the salt, and you have to change the water a few times. We can guarantee that it is well worth the extra work, since the conservation process reflects positively in the taste of the fish.
Sardinhas Play normal audio Sardines and carapau Play normal audio horse mackerel (also known by the name chicharro Play normal audio horse mackerel) are two other species with a great tradition in Portugal. The first is strongly associated with summer festivities and saints’ celebrations.
Marisco Play normal audio Shellfish is also popular, with the typical arroz de marisco Play normal audio shellfish rice being considered our favorite shellfish dish.
The shellfish category includes moluscos Play normal audio mollusks and crustáceos Play normal audio crustaceans. Further on, we will give examples of species belonging to each of these categories.

More of the Most Common Fish:

  • pescada Play normal audio hake, robalo Play normal audio bass, and dourada Play normal audio sea bream
  • petingas Play normal audio small sardines and jaquinzinhos Play normal audio small, young mackerels (usually deep-fried and served with tomato rice)
  • atum paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tuna and salmão Play normal audio salmon (commonly found in supermarkets)

Others:

  • cação Play normal audio sandbar sharkespadarte Play normal audio swordfishpescadinha Play normal audio small hake
  • perca Play normal audio perchtamboril Play normal audio monkfishsável Play normal audio shad
  • cherne Play normal audio grouperpargo Play normal audio dentexcorvina Play normal audio
  • peixe galo Play normal audio john doryxaputa Play normal audio Atlantic pomfretlinguado Play normal audio sole raia Play normal audio ray
  • safio Play normal audio skatecavala Play normal audio mackerelpeixe-espada Play normal audio largehead hairtail
  • lampreias Play normal audio lampreys and enguias Play normal audio eels are two freshwater fish that are also popular in certain regions of the country

Mollusks

The most popular molusco Play normal audio mollusk is polvo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio octopus, followed by lulas Play normal audio squids and chocos Play normal audio cuttlefish. Sometimes, instead of polvo, restaurantes will serve dishes with pota Play normal audio humboldt squid which is similar in taste and texture.

Bivalves

The most popular bivalves in Portugal are: mexilhão Play normal audio mussels, ameijôas Play normal audio clams, berbigão Play normal audio cockles, plus the slightly more expensive, and dangerous to catch, perceves Play normal audio goose neck barnacles (also spelled percebes Play normal audio ).
Other include:

  • conquilhas Play normal audio barnacales
  • ostras Play normal audio oysters
  • búzios Play normal audio whelks
  • lapas Play normal audio limpets
  • lingueirão Play normal audio razor clam (also known as navalhas Play normal audio razor blades)

Crustaceans

In the crustáceos Play normal audio crustaceans category, we commonly find camarão Play normal audio shrimp, gambas Play normal audio prawns, and camarão tigre Play normal audio tiger prawn.
Certain crustaceans are often present in big celebrations, especially during Christmas and New Year’s dinners. Those include:

  • lagosta Play normal audio spiny lobster, lavagante Play normal audio lobster, and the smaller lagostim Play normal audio langoustine
  • caranguejo Play normal audio crabsapateira Play normal audio brown crabsantola Play normal audio spider crab

At the Portuguese Fish Market

Where and How Fish are Sold in Portugal

Depending on where they spend their lives, fish can be peixes de água salgada Play normal audio saltwater fish or peixes de água doce Play normal audio freshwater fish. Nowadays, after being caught by the pescadores Play normal audio fishermen, the fish are sold “auction style” at the lota Play normal audio warehouse where fish is sold. Later, they are sold to the public by the famous peixeiras Play normal audio fishmongers at the various praças Play normal audio market squares, or in supermarkets.
You can find peixe fresco Play normal audio fresh fish or peixe congelado Play normal audio frozen fish, peixe de conserva Play normal audio canned fish or peixe salgado Play normal audio salted fish. You may see the terms aquacultura Play normal audio aquaculture or selvagem Play normal audio wild on the labels. Salmon, for example, often has the aquacultura tag, while the term selvagem is often associated with shrimp.

Ordering Fish at the Market

portuguese fish

The Basics

There are many ways you can ask for the fish you want to take home and cook. For example, if you know how to choose fish, you can directly tell the fishmonger: Queria aquele robalo ali Play normal audio I would like that bass there
Otherwise, you can just say:
Queria um robalo Play normal audio I would like a bass
With certain fish, you can use larger numbers:
Quero uma dúzia de sardinhas Play normal audio I want a dozen sardines
With smaller fish and bivalves, you ask for them by weight:
Quero meio quilo de ameijôas Play normal audio I want half a kilo of clams

Cleaning and Preparing the Fish

Once you have chosen the fish and the quantity of it that you want, you can ask them to arranjarem o peixe Play normal audio fix the fish, which is, basically, removing the scales and cleaning the guts. Limpar o peixe Play normal audio Clean the fish is another way of phrasing it. This process is also known as amanhar o peixe Play normal audio cleaning the fish, so we say the fish foi amanhado Play normal audio was cleaned – that is, it’s ready for cooking. You use this same expressions with mollusks, also. After choosing the fish, you can then say:
(O peixe) É para arranjar Play normal audio (The fish) is to be cleaned
Depending on the type of fish, you can ask for it to be cut into postas Play normal audio slices.
If they do not ask you, you can also tell them to open the fish as well by saying:
(O peixe) É para escalar Play normal audio (The fish) is to be open
Supermarkets can have loins and fillets of fresh fish for sale, although these are always available in the frozen fish section. The difference between the fillets and the loins is that the first are thinner horizontals cuts while the loins are a larger piece of the fish.
All fish, when arranged, são escamados Play normal audio are scaled, except for sardines which are normally for roasting on the grill.
Mollusks must also be arranjados Play normal audio cleaned, by washing and removing certain parts such as the eyes and mouth. In the case of the cuttlefish, some people ask the fishmonger not to clean the insides, therefore keeping the ink of the animal.

Comments

  • Hi

    apropos Bacalhao

    A few years ago when visiting Portimo for the first time I visited the local supermercado PingoDoce. There I found a huge pile of dried codfish and the box said it was from Nils Sperre, Ålesund. I still have the photo. So I mailed it to my workmate, and she said ‘Gosch, that’s my uncle’. So it is a small world! I am Swedish (Laponia) but has been living most of life in Norway, buy now more and more in Portugal, now near Lisboa, with portuguese neighbors and brazilian woman and her family. And was lucky to find your website in addition to others, Next time I hope to comment in Portuguese, European, but with a Brazilian touch.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best regards, Hasse

  • Nice and detailed explanation about fishes. Really good lesson for who lives in Portugal. To the owner of this site I’m requesting you to give super bonus offer for Christmas so I can rejoin this membership. I am waiting to have this offer. Thank You Joe and his team for doing 5his great effort for the new speakers of portuguese. Doing great work for the all and country as well. Nice

  • I see salmon at the mercado and do not know how to distinguish between the different cuts. How do I ask for a specific cut as opposed to another for fish that is already cleaned and cut? Thanks.

    • The general choice will be between filetes (fillets) and postas (slices), with some other possibilities, such as lombos (loins) or cubos (cubes). There are different ways you can ask for each, but one example would be “Queria [1/2/3… units or per weight] filetes/postas/lombos/cubos de salmão, se faz favor”.

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