15 Incredible Seafood Dishes You Must Try in Portugal
With over 1,000 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that Portugal has access to some of the best seafood in the world. Add to that a devotion to Mediterranean-style cuisine, an abundance of fresh ingredients, and cuisine that is both traditional and innovative, and it’s easy to see why Portugal is full of incredible seafood dishes that you have to try. . No list could contain them all, but here are some of the most well-known and loved.
It would be impossible to drive through Portugal and not encounter the cod dishes that have nourished the country since its explorers traveled the world centuries ago. The salt cod called Bacalhau that fed Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan is still piled high in grocery stores and fish markets today. Cod is soaked and desalted and used grated or in pieces in as many recipes as there are people in this Iberian nation. Some of the most incredible dishes are Bacalhau à Bras (mixed with potatoes, onions and eggs), Bacalhau com Natas (with potatoes and cream) and Pastéis de Bacalhau (fritters of cod). A special meal, Bacalhau com Todos (codfish with everything) is served on Christmas Eve in homes across the country, even ours.
2. Polvo In Lagareiro
Polvo (octopus) is almost as ubiquitous as bacalhau when it comes to Portuguese seafood dishes. Its sweet flavor and firm, tender texture are found in popular preparations such as Polvo à Lagereiro, one of the most traditional seafood dishes found in all coastal areas. It includes roasted or grilled cooked octopus with olive oil, garlic and herbs, and served with roast potatoes. Some recipes include olives, onions, or a green vegetable like rapini. We loved Taberna Económica de Cascais, a restaurant in the coastal town of Cascais (about 20 miles west of Lisbon).
3. Ameijoas in Bulhão Pato
Named after 19th-century writer and poet Raimundo António Bulhão Pato by a Lisbon hotel chef, this simple yet elegant dish features littleneck clams in an olive oil sauce, garlic, coriander, salt, pepper and sometimes dry white wine. Fresh lemon juice is squeezed over the top just before serving to add a bright, fresh finish. This dish is often served as an appetizer, although the addition of some crusty bread and a glass of Portuguese wine makes for a memorable meal.
4. Gambas Ao Alho
Another simple yet incredibly delicious Portuguese seafood dish is garlic prawns. Prawns (camarões) can be used instead of prawns, and anyway they are cooked in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Served with rice on the side, a pile of crispy fries or crispy fresh bread for dipping, it’s amazing. You will find it in many places, including the wonderful family establishment A Nova Estrela, also in Cascais.
Lapas are limpets, marine molluscs that cling to rocks and are a specialty of Madeira. One of the most memorable seafood meals we enjoyed was Lapas Grelhadas at Moda da Madeira. The limpets are served in the same pan where they are grilled with garlic, butter, parsley and lemon juice. After a fun day exploring Madeira, we welcomed them to a little cafe on Faja dos Padres beach, the perfect place to celebrate Portugal’s love of the sea.
6. Cataplana De Marisco
The cataplana is a Portuguese cookware originating from the Algarve region. It is a hinged pan made of metal, traditionally copper, which works like a giant valve. It is closed during heating and acts as a pressure cooker on the ingredients inside. Although meat and everything else can be cooked inside the cataplana, the seafood cataplana is a Portuguese favorite. All kinds of fish, shellfish and other seafood are packed in the lower half, sometimes adding potatoes and peppers and olive oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and White wine. The halves are then closed and the cataplana heated to steam the ingredients into a colorful and aromatic feast.
Bruxas or lobster are a specialty of Cascais. Lobster lovers will love these mini lobsters which have soft and tender meat in bite-size pieces. Sometimes they are served fried with a side dish of lemon-garlic aioli. Visit Marisco Na Praça at Mercado da Vila in Cascais to look at the fresh seafood bar and choose exactly what you want, including Bruxas, which we enjoyed steamed with just a squeeze of lemon. This saved us space for a beef sandwich dessert.
8. Sardinhas Assadas
During the summer months, it is not uncommon to see all the restaurants in the coastal areas that serve seafood offering sardines. Grilled whole and seasoned with just a little salt and olive oil, they are usually served with side dishes such as potatoes, vegetables or salad. Sometimes the sardines are served with the grilled fish on bread. The fish is removed from the bones and eaten, then turned over to eat the other side. Bones are discarded and bread soaked in oil and fish is enjoyed. Lisbon holds a Sardine Festival every June with street parties, decorations and lots of sardine grills.
9. Sapateira Recheada
Sapateira Recheada means stuffed or stuffed crab. But that doesn’t do justice to the magic of this amazing seafood dish you have to try in Portugal. The crab is a large Atlantic brown crab, the kind that can weigh up to six pounds. And the stuffing includes sweet crabmeat, pickled eggs, mustard, beer or wine, mayonnaise, paprika, boiled eggs, etc. All this deliciousness is poured into the crab shell, surrounded by steamed legs and claws and bread or crackers for dipping. The Monte Mar restaurant in Cascais is known for its Sapateira Recheada as well as its ocean views.
10. Fresh fish
One of the best things about Portugal is that water is such a part of the geography. There are plenty of fantastic fish coming straight out of the seas, lakes and rivers and into the dinner tables. Grouper, gilthead seabream, bass, sole, mackerel, red mullet and bluefish are just the start. Tuna, shark, swordfish, ray, marlin and scabbard come from the depths of the sea. Trout, largemouth bass and salmon populate the rivers. Grilled fresh fish is one of our favorite dishes which is glorious in Furnas do Guincho, also in Cascais, where the sunset itself is a masterpiece.
11. Choco Frito
Setúbal, southeast of Lisbon, is the place of origin of Choco frito: fried cuttlefish. This traditional dish, which may look like fish sticks, is often served with fries or potato chips. Cuttlefish strips are marinated and cooked in herbs, wine, lemon and garlic, then coated in a batter made from seasoned cornmeal and fried. They do great petiscos, Portuguese snacks. When visiting Setúbal, try it at a local spot like Adega Leo do Petisco with a glass of fine Setúbal wine.
French snail lovers will be interested in the Portuguese version of snails called caracóis. A seasonal summer treat, they are usually small, although there is a larger version called caracoletas, and served in a broth seasoned with olive oil or butter, garlic, herbs and sometimes chilli sauce spicy portuguese piri-piri. In the summer, you’ll find Portuguese people eating them out of a bowl as a snack or appetizer in Lisbon and southern areas where many restaurants place signs out front proclaiming they have caracóis. Julio Dos Caracóis is a popular spot in Lisbon, but caracóis are also available in markets in large mesh bags to make at home.
Caldeirada is a Portuguese fish stew consisting of seafood, bacalhau or fish, as desired. The base includes olive oil, white wine, tomatoes, onions, herbs and spices. The Caldeirada is layered so that the fish requiring the longest cooking time is placed at the bottom and the more delicate fish is layered on top. The traditional stew depended on whatever fishermen could catch, so potatoes and peppers complemented it. Try it at a seafood restaurant in a seafood town like Restaurante Rocha in Peniche.
14. Espetada De Peixe
An espetada is a skewer containing ingredients cut into generally uniform shapes, seasoned with oil, garlic, and spices, and cooked on a grill. One of the best Portuguese versions is espetada de peixe, which includes meaty fish on a skewer, grilled and served suspended over rice, potatoes or vegetables so that the juices run down and season them. Sample espetadas at Lisbon’s Leitaria A Camponeza, a restaurant in a historic building that used to be a shop where people would get fresh milk, sometimes from the cow itself.
15. Carne De Porco In Alentejana
This Portuguese take on surf and turf incorporates succulent cubes of pork loin with tiny, soft clams swimming in a tangy herb, garlic, and wine sauce. It is embellished with pieces of marinated vegetables and served on fries or roast potatoes. Originally from the Alentejo region, this is one of our favorite dishes. Enjoy with a fabulous Alentejo wine at the beautiful Casa do Alentejo in Lisbon.
Pro tip: Portuguese canned fish
The Portuguese took the concept of canned fish to an incredible level. Not only will you find aisles of canned tuna at the local grocer, but also sardines, cod, mackerel, octopus, squid, mussels, prawns, eel, salmon and more again. Comur Fish Cannery offers many products with fun and colorful packaging perfect for gifts and souvenirs.
History, culture, tradition and cuisine come together beautifully in the many amazing seafood dishes you must try in Portugal.
Editor’s note: the information on the Portuguese coastline presented in the first paragraph of this article comes from AtlasWorld.com.