Portugal’s intimate relationship with the ocean not only make it a natural paradise but also a land of navigators and fishermen. The ocean has for centuries entwined to Portuguese culture, and in particular, into the annals of gastronomy. It’s no surprise that Portuguese seafood boasts international fame, as the cold waters of the Atlantic make the spoils of the sea particularly flavorful.
From north to south, you’ll find an array of favorite specimens, and corresponding recipes, always with seasonality in mind. The quest is to be able to appreciate both the simplicity of a seawater-boiled crustacean and the sensorial feast that of a cataplana.
Wherever in the coast, you find yourself — be it in the surf of Matosinhos, or the beautiful peninsula of Setúbal, in the hills of Lisbon, or the beaches of the Algarve — know that there are quality restaurants (often under the name of marisqueira) that will make a gastronomer’s stomach tingle in excitement. If you’re curious, you can also try our exciting Porto Fish & Seafood tour.
From the cephalopod to the decapod, and from the gastropod to the bivalve and beyond, find below an extensive list of the Portuguese seafood you may find in your travels.
Each specimen is marked with an indication of price (*cheap | **medium | ***expensive).
PORTUGUESE SEAFOOD FROM A TO Z
The amêijoa-boa, or cross-cut carpet shell, is a small native clam species that has a sweet, briny flavor, and is sought for popular dishes such as Lisbon’s classic amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, and both Algarve’s xerém de amêijoa (similar to corn grits) and carne de porco à Alentejana (a pork and clam surf and turf). *
The berbigão, or common cockle, is found buried in the sand and mud along the estuaries and tidal flats. As it is a very abundant species, it is caught by hand by mariscadores (seafood pickers), most famously in the ria de Aveiro or ria Formosa (Algarve). Although commonly integrated into large seafood dishes like the cataplana, the common cockle shines through as a solo artist in the arroz de berbigão (rice) and Algarve’s xerém de berbigão (similar to corn grits), or berbigão de cebolada (Aveiro). *
The carabineiro, or scarlet prawn, is a big prawn, both in size and in flavor. Found in warmer Portuguese coastal waters, the carabineiro’s sweet flavor and delicate texture make it highly sought for as a premium ingredient, but you can otherwise find it simply grilled in marisqueiras, and made as rice (arroz de carabineiro) or even a cataplana. ***
The small camarão-da-costa, or common prawn, is caught in tidal pools throughout the Portuguese coast. Its petite size makes a bit finicky to eat, but its firm flesh and sweet briny taste make the labor worth it. The truth is that most of us eat it whole (head off)! ***
CAVACO or SANTIAGO
The rare cavaco, or more comically, the Mediterranean slipper lobster, is a delicious and delicate member of the lobster family, with a tender and flavorful meat. Cavaco is always quite expensive, and when in season you’ll find it simply boiled or grilled in the Azores islands, and in select restaurants in the mainland. There is also the bruxa (also known as cavaco-anão or Santiaguinho) (Scyllarus arctus), a smaller species of cavaco, often eaten fried with a side of mayonnaise in Cascais and Lisbon. ***
The cuttlefish is one of the tastiest cephalopods one can find in Portuguese waters. Its most famous rendition is probably choco frito à Setubalense (Setúbal), where thick strips of cuttlefish are doused in a batter, fried, and sprinkled with lemon juice. Otherwise, find choco grilled on a barbecue (choco grelhado) or fried — especially good when the chocos are served with their own ink (choquinhos fritos com tinta) — or in rice, and also in the hearty feijoada de chocos (bean stew). *
The conquilha, or bean clam, is a little clam that is found in abundance in the shores of the Algarve and the coast of Alentejo. Their mild, sweet flavor makes them ideal to add to other seafood dishes, but their most popular use is in conquilhas à algarvia, quickly sautéed with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and cilantro (Algarve). *
The craca, or acorn barnacle, is definitely an odd, but amazing example of Portuguese seafood. This particular species is a giant variety and is found in the Azores. This barnacle is a cousin of the goose barnacle (see percebes), but forms a calcium carbonate shell that firmly grips it to marine rocks, making it quite difficult to harvest properly. The typical Azorean recipe implicates boiling the cracas in sea water, that is flavored with onion, parsley, garlic, and piri-piri. A bite into a craca renders an unbelievable flavor of the ocean, making it a unique delicacy of the Azores. **
The delicate gamba, or rose shrimp, is a medium sized shrimp, that is fished in the deep waters of the Portuguese coast. Its plump, sweet flesh makes it a delicacy that can even be eaten raw. Due to its higher price, though, it is often swapped for cheaper aquaculture-raised shrimp (camarão that isn’t selvagem — wild). Without gambas we wouldn’t have the silky açorda de gambas (thick bread soup), and the typical arroz de marisco (seafood rice) would be missing a star ingredient. **
Patella aspera & Patella candei gomesii
The lapa, or limpet, is a small to medium-sized sea snail that clings onto tidal rocks. Who’d say that this unassuming and shy little gastropod would render one of the Azores’ most delicious appetizers: lapas grelhadas à moda dos Açores, simply grilled and doused in a delicate sauce. They are also eaten raw, sautéed (Afonso de lapas), and in rice (arroz de lapas). *
The lagosta, or spiny lobster, is considered by many as the queen of Portuguese seafood, although many prefer its cousin, the lavagante. The cold waters of the Atlantic make Portuguese spiny lobster’s meat sweeter than of those from the Mediterranean. And if you’re looking for the best, the spiny lobsters of Peniche and Ericeira are amongst the most prized specimens. It goes without saying that some of the most famous traditional recipes come from the region of Peniche, such as the lagosta suada à moda de Peniche (slowly steamed, with wine and other condiments), or the sopa de lagosta de Peniche (soup), and from Estremadura, in the form of açorda de lagosta (bread soup). ***
The lavagante, or lobster, is one of the most delicious examples of Portuguese seafood. As a result of the Atlantic’s cold water, the lavagante’s tender, sweet, flavorful meat is an absolute delight to the tastebuds, and thus Portuguese lavagantes are quite expensive and mainly turn up on the table on special occasions. This crustacean is so flavorsome that a few minutes in the pot or on the grill are more than enough to make it shine, but you’ll also find delectable traditional dishes such as the arroz de lavagante (rice). ***
LINGUEIRÃO or NAVALHAS
The lingueirão, or the grooved razor shell, is a peculiar looking bivalve. With a buttery, almost nutty flavor, and pronounced sweetness, it is particularly loved in the Algarve, where it is harvested in the banks of Ria Formosa. Notable recipes include the arroz de lingueirão (rice), sopa de lingueirão (soup), and simply grilled lingueirão. **
The lula, or squid, is a delicious cephalopod that appears throughout Portuguese cuisine in many different forms. Most often, you’ll find fresh lulas grilled over a charcoal grill (lulas grelhadas), and also lulas cheias (Algarve) or recheadas, which are squid stuffed with their own minced tentacles, chouriço, presunto, tomato, onion, and a few herbs. *
The mexilhão, or mussel, is ubiquitous to all of the Portuguese coast, thriving on coastal and estuarine rocks. The mussels you find in Portugal may be either wild caught, or produced in aquaculture in the open sea. While often appearing in hearty Portuguese seafood dishes such as the cataplana, caldeirada or feijoada de marisco, an interesting traditional recipe is the mexilhões à moda de Aveiro, which are mussels fried on a skewer, and submerged in a special sauce for a few days, or perhaps the easily found mexilhões com molho verde, boiled mussels dressed with a vinegar, olive oil, onion and parsley sauce. *
The fast little navalheira, or velvet crab, is a small crab that inhabits the tidal pools and rocks along the Portuguese coast. It is one of the cheaper crabs you can find in markets and marisqueiras, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. It is usually found boiled, and ready to eat. That being said, it’s to note that eating a navalheira is tough and fussy work — but this crab’s sweet, velvety meat is a true treat. **
The ostra, or oyster, is a delicious bivalve that is highly coveted worldwide as a luxurious delicacy. In Portugal, premium quality oysters are produced in the ria Formosa (Algarve), the ria de Aveiro, and the estuary of the Sado. They are, unsurprisingly, quickly bought by foreign importers (especially the French), and sold all over the world. Indeed, savoring a fresh Portuguese oyster, paired with a high-quality espumante is an experience that no seafood lover will forget. Traditional recipes with oysters include Lisbon’s sopa de ostras (soup) and ostras recheadas (stuffed oysters). **
The ouriço-do-mar, or sea urchin, is an echinoderm (a term that means, quite literally, “hedgehog skin”), that can be found along the Portuguese coast, with large populations inhabiting the shores of Ericeira, Sagres, Viana do Castelo and Sesimbra. The sea urchin’s most notable feature is their plump orange gonads, often referred by the Japanese term uni, which are simply divine. **
The percebes, or the goose barnacle, is a weird little alien-like crustacean. The goose barnacle has been harvested and consumed by humans for thousands of years, and yet, it appears as a mystery for many. Harvesting goose barnacles is a risky business, as they nestle on rocks that are heavily hammered by the waves. After that perilous part, the rest comes naturally. The trick is to boil the goose barnacle, wait for a little while, peel off the skin, then off with the head, and enjoy a unique marine flavor. Its taste is refreshingly briny, with a touch of algae, and a mildly sweet ending. **
The santola, or the European spider crab, is a gigantic and bizarre looking decapod, with a spiny heart-shaped shell and long legs. This migrating crab is fished throughout the Portuguese coast and high seas, including the Azores. Its sweet meat is often used to make santola recheada fria (a paté with the meat, egg, pickles, and a series of condiments) from Estremadura, or the famous santola no carro (a santola paté with corn broa, onion, spices, and port wine), from Viana do Castelo.**
Polvo (octopus) might just be the most important cephalopod in Portuguese seafood. This delicious creature is caught all over the coast and quickly sold in local markets. Its firm yet tender flesh carries a sweet flavor, which is particularly favored by roasting, grilling, or frying. Find octopus as arroz de polvo (rice), polvo à lagareiro (roast), filetes de polvo (fried fillets), or polvo guisado (stew). *
The sapateira, or brown crab, is a large crab with incredibly strong pincers — it would definitely crush you at thumb war. Its meat is tender and sweet, and the best part is found in the pincers. In Portugal, you’ll often find sapateira recheada (the sapateira’s shell filled with a creamy paté with its meat, mayonnaise, and condiments), or solely its boiled pincers. **