Sample the treasures from our sea

By ELOISE WALTON [email protected]

Eloise Walton is a graduate from Bristol University with a degree in Archaeology and Geology. She moved to the Algarve in 2005 and came to work for the Resident as a journalist early last year.

Many foreign residents and visitors to the Algarve pull a face of disgust, shock or mock horror when faced with one of the region’s most prized food stuffs…seafood.

Often, when visiting a seafood restaurant and faced with a wide array of molluscs, crustaceans and shells of all shapes and sizes, many will choose the same and comforting option of prawns instead of sampling these regional delicacies. “I think many people try to avoid what they do not know because they do not know how to eat it or what it tastes like,” said seafood expert and restaurant owner Rafael Gonçalves. The Algarve has a very long and rich fishing tradition and the Portuguese are among the world’s greatest seafood eaters. “My father was a fisherman, as was his father before him, and now I am the owner of a seafood restaurant and want to encourage everyone to try each of our delicacies at least once in their lifetime,” said Rafael.

During a recent visit to his newly opened restaurant, Rafael proudly showed me around his fish tank while explaining how to prepare and cook each individual inside. Shells such as cockles or berbigão, which is normally the cheapest dish available, wedge shell clams conquilhas and clams ameijoas are normally washed before being thrown in a pan of hot olive oil and garlic. There, the shells are flash fried until they open and are drizzled with lemon juice and garnished with fresh coriander before being served. “These shells are very easy to prepare and taste wonderful,” said Rafael.  As seafood is typically sold by weight in restaurants and shops, a normal portion for an adult would be between 200 and 250 grams for a snack or petisco. Friends dining out together often order a plate of each and share.

Other shells such as oysters (ostras) and razorfish (lingueirão) are typically opened on a hot plate (na chapa) and served with lemon juice. Crabs and lobster are often seen swimming around restaurant tanks but they are not just for decoration.

According to Rafael, these are placed live in a pan of boiling salt water for around 25 minutes. “After this, the flesh is cooked to perfection and the chef will remove the inedible filters of the crustacean before serving,” he said, adding: “These come with a hammer and sometimes a type of nut cracker.” A widely appreciated but tricky to obtain delicacy is the goose barnacle or perceve. These odd looking little creatures are simply plunged into boiling water for two minutes. They, like all seafood, are finger food and eaten by biting off the tip and sucking out the tender pink flesh inside.

For those who are a little more adventurous, there is the búzio or sea snail.  “This is not recommended for an evening meal or for small children as the flesh is difficult to digest,” said Rafael, adding: “It can be cooked similar to an octopus and used to make a delicious seafood rice dish.” Typically, seafood is accompanied by a side order of bread and butter or warm toasts with garlic mayonnaise and a chilled glass of Vinho Verde, Portuguese green wine or beer.

Because seafood is a highly perishable food product, when buying it fresh and alive to cook at home, it is best to check when it was caught as it will usually only last up to a maximum of five days if it has been thoroughly cleaned, washed and refrigerated.  So why not be brave and sample some of the treasures from our sea?

For more information about fresh seafood from the Algarve’s pristine coastline, why not visit Rafael and Susana at their restaurant O Gordo Comilão, located along Rua do Barranco in Carvoeiro. Alternatively call them on 962 429 875.