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 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
Bacalhau salgado 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 Sardines and carapau horse mackerel (also known by the name chicharro horse mackerel) are two other species with a great tradition in Portugal. The first is strongly associated with summer festivities and saints’ celebrations.
Marisco Shellfish is also popular, with the typical arroz de marisco shellfish rice being considered our favorite shellfish dish.
The shellfish category includes moluscos mollusks and crustáceos crustaceans. Further on, we will give examples of species belonging to each of these categories.
More of the Most Common Fish:
- pescada hake, robalo bass, and dourada sea bream
- petingas small sardines and jaquinzinhos small, young mackerels (usually deep-fried and served with tomato rice)
- atum tuna and salmão salmon (commonly found in supermarkets)
- cação sandbar sharkespadarte swordfishpescadinha small hake
- perca perchtamboril monkfishsável shad
- cherne grouperpargo dentexcorvina
- peixe galo john doryxaputa Atlantic pomfretlinguado sole raia ray
- safio skatecavala mackerelpeixe-espada largehead hairtail
- lampreias lampreys and enguias eels are two freshwater fish that are also popular in certain regions of the country
The most popular molusco mollusk is polvo octopus, followed by lulas squids and chocos cuttlefish. Sometimes, instead of polvo, restaurantes will serve dishes with pota humboldt squid which is similar in taste and texture.
The most popular bivalves in Portugal are: mexilhão mussels, ameijôas clams, berbigão cockles, plus the slightly more expensive, and dangerous to catch, perceves goose neck barnacles (also spelled percebes ).
- conquilhas barnacales
- ostras oysters
- búzios whelks
- lapas limpets
- lingueirão razor clam (also known as navalhas razor blades)
In the crustáceos crustaceans category, we commonly find camarão shrimp, gambas prawns, and camarão tigre tiger prawn.
Certain crustaceans are often present in big celebrations, especially during Christmas and New Year’s dinners. Those include:
- lagosta spiny lobster, lavagante lobster, and the smaller lagostim langoustine
- caranguejo crabsapateira brown crabsantola 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 saltwater fish or peixes de água doce freshwater fish. Nowadays, after being caught by the pescadores fishermen, the fish are sold “auction style” at the lota warehouse where fish is sold. Later, they are sold to the public by the famous peixeiras fishmongers at the various praças market squares, or in supermarkets.
You can find peixe fresco fresh fish or peixe congelado frozen fish, peixe de conserva canned fish or peixe salgado salted fish. You may see the terms aquacultura aquaculture or selvagem 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
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 I want that bass there
Otherwise, you can just say:
Queria um robalo I want a bass
With certain fish, you can use larger numbers:
Quero uma dúzia de sardinhas I want a dozen sardines
With smaller fish and bivalves, you ask for them by weight:
Quero meio quilo de ameijôas 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 fix the fish, which is, basically, removing the scales and cleaning the guts. Limpar o peixe Clean the fish is another way of phrasing it. This process is also known as amanhar o peixe cleaning the fish, so we say the fish foi amanhado 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 The fish is to be cleaned
Depending on the type of fish, you can ask for it to be cut into postas 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 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 are scaled, except for sardines which are normally for roasting on the grill.
Mollusks must also be arranjados 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.