With over 1,000 miles of coastline, it’s not surprising that Portugal has access to some of the best seafood in the world. Add to that a devotion to Mediterranean-style cooking, abundant fresh ingredients, and both traditional and innovative cuisine, and it’s easy to see why Portugal is loaded with incredible seafood dishes you need to try. No list could contain them all, but here are a few of the best known and loved.
It would be impossible to pass through Portugal and not encounter cod dishes that have been feeding the country since its explorers sailed the world centuries ago. The salted cod called Bacalhau that fed Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan is still stacked in grocery stores and fish markets today. The cod is soaked and desalinated and used shredded or in pieces in about as many recipes as there are people in this Iberian nation. A few 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 (cod fritters). A special meal, Bacalhau com Todos (cod with everything) is served on Christmas Eve in homes across the country, even ours.
2. Polvo À Lagareiro
Polvo (octopus) is almost as ubiquitous as bacalhau when it comes to Portuguese seafood dishes. Its sweet flavor and firm and tender texture comes through in popular preparations such as Polvo à Lagereiro, a most traditional seafood dish found all over the coastal areas. It features cooked octopus that is roasted or grilled with olive oil, garlic, and herbs, and served with roasted potatoes. Some recipes include olives, onions, or a green vegetable like rapini. We loved it at Taberna Económica de Cascais, a restaurant in the coastal city of Cascais (roughly 20 miles west of Lisbon).
3. Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
Named in honor of the 19th-century writer and poet Raimundo António Bulhão Pato by a Lisbon hotel chef, this simple but elegant dish includes littleneck clams in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, and sometimes dry white wine. Fresh lemon juice is squeezed on top just before serving to add a bright, fresh finish. This dish is often served as an appetizer, though adding a little crusty bread and a glass of Portuguese wine will make a memorable meal.
4. Gambas Ao Alho
Another simple but stunningly delicious Portuguese seafood dish is this one of garlic prawns. Shrimp (camarões) may be used instead of prawns, and either way they are cooked in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Served with a side of rice, a pile of crisp French fries, or fresh crusty bread for dipping, it’s incredible. You’ll find it in many places including the wonderful family-run A Nova Estrela, also in Cascais.
Lapas are limpets, sea mollusks that cling to rocks and are a specialty of Madeira. One of the most memorable seafood meals we’ve enjoyed was Lapas Grelhadas à Moda da Madeira. The limpets are served in the same pan in which they are grilled with garlic, butter, parsley, and lemon juice. After a fun day exploring Madeira, we had them in a little café on the beach at Faja dos Padres, the perfect place for celebrating Portugal’s love affair with the sea.
6. Cataplana De Marisco
The cataplana is Portuguese cookware originally from the Algarve region. It’s a hinged pan made out of metal, traditionally copper, that works like a giant clamshell. It’s closed during heating and acts like a pressure cooker on the ingredients inside. Though meat and anything else can be cooked inside the cataplana, the seafood cataplana is a Portuguese favorite. All kinds of fish, shellfish, and other seafood are packed into the bottom 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, aromatic feast.
Bruxas or slipper lobsters are a specialty of Cascais. Lobster fans will love these mini-lobsters that have sweet, tender meat in bite-sized portions. Sometimes they are served fried with a side of garlic-lemon aioli. Visit Marisco Na Praça at the Mercado da Vila in Cascais to look at the fresh seafood bar and choose exactly what you would like, including Bruxas, which we enjoyed steamed with just a little lemon. That let us save room for a beef sandwich dessert.
8. Sardinhas Assadas
During the summer months, it’s not unusual to see every restaurant in the coastal areas that serves seafood offering sardines. Grilled whole and seasoned with just some salt and olive oil, they usually come with accompaniments like potatoes, vegetables, or salad. Sometimes sardines are served with the grilled fish on bread. The fish is pulled away from the bones and eaten, then flipped over to eat the other side. The bones are discarded, and the oil and fish-soaked bread is enjoyed. Lisbon holds a Sardine Festival every June with street parties, decorations, and lots of grilling sardines.
9. Sapateira Recheada
Sapateira Recheada means filled or stuffed crab. But that doesn’t do justice to the magic of this incredible seafood dish you need to try in Portugal. The crab is a large brown Atlantic crab, the kind that can weigh up to six pounds. And the stuffing includes the sweet crab meat, briny roe, mustard, beer or wine, mayonnaise, paprika, hard-boiled eggs, and more. All this deliciousness is poured back into the crab shell, surrounded by steamed legs and claws and bread or crackers for dipping. Monte Mar restaurant in Cascais is known for its Sapateira Recheada as well as its oceanfront views.
10. Fresh Fish
One of the best features of Portugal is that water is so much a part of the geography. There are a lot of fantastic fish that come right out of the sea, lakes, and rivers and make their way to dinner tables. Grouper, golden bream, sea bass, sole, mackerel, red mullet, and bluefish, are just the beginning. Tuna, shark, swordfish, ray, marlin, and scabbard fish come from the deep sea. Trout, largemouth bass, and salmon populate the rivers. Grilled fresh fish is one of our favorites given glorious treatment at 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 for Choco frito: fried cuttlefish. This traditional dish that can look like fish sticks is often served with French fries or potato chips. Strips of the cuttlefish are marinated and cooked in herbs, wine, lemon, and garlic then coated in a seasoned corn flour batter and fried. They make great petiscos, Portuguese snacks. On a visit to Setúbal, try it at a local spot like Adega Leo do Petisco with a glass of lovely Setúbal wine.
Fans of French escargots will be interested in the Portuguese version of snails called caracóis. A seasonal summertime treat, they are generally small, though there is a larger version called caracoletas, and served in broth seasoned with olive oil or butter, garlic, herbs, and sometimes hot Portuguese piri-piri chili pepper sauce. In summer you will find Portuguese eating them by the bowlful as a snack or appetizer in Lisbon and the southern areas where many eateries place signs in front proclaiming that they have caracóis. Julio Dos Caracóis is a popular spot in Lisbon, but caracóis are also available at markets in large net bags to make at home.
Caldeirada is a Portuguese fish stew featuring seafood, bacalhau, or fish, as desired. The base includes olive oil, white wine, tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices. The Caldeirada is set up in layers so the fish requiring the longest cooking time is placed on the bottom and the more delicate fish is layered on top. The traditional stew depended upon whatever the fishermen were able to catch, so potatoes and peppers round it out. 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 in generally uniform shapes, seasoned with oil, garlic, and spices and cooked on a grill. One of the best Portuguese versions is the espetada de peixe, which includes meaty fish skewered, grilled, and served hanging over rice, potatoes, or vegetables so that the juices drip down and season them. Enjoy espetadas at Lisbon’s Leitaria A Camponeza, a restaurant in a historic building that was a shop where people would go for fresh milk, sometimes from the cow herself.
15. Carne De Porco À Alentejana
This Portuguese version of surf and turf incorporates succulent cubes of pork loin with tiny sweet clams all swimming in a tangy herb, garlic, and wine sauce. It’s accented by bits of pickled vegetables and served over French fries or roasted potatoes. Originating in 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 have taken the concept of canned fish to an unbelievable level. Not only will you find aisles of canned tuna in the local grocer, but also sardines, cod, mackerel, octopus, squid, mussels, prawns, eel, salmon, and much more. Comur fish canning company offers numerous products with fun and colorful packaging perfect for gifts and souvenirs.
History, culture, tradition, and cuisine come together beautifully in the many incredible seafood dishes you need to try in Portugal.
Editor’s Note: The information about Portugal’s coastline presented in the first paragraph of this article is from WorldAtlas.com.