Something fishy at the supermarket

By Patrick Stuart [email protected]

When looking for good fresh fish to cook at home, the only safe bet here in the Algarve is to get up early and go to one of the better fish markets. Or of course, the Apolónia fish counter in Almancil always has a small selection of high quality fresh fish. But for those of us living elsewhere in the Algarve – Carvoeiro in my case – time constraints (and I will admit some laziness when it comes to going to the market), usually find me shopping for fish at my local supermarkets – more often than not coming away empty handed.

But here in the Carvoeiro/Lagoa area things have improved somewhat over the last few years, with new or revamped fish counters at our local Pingo Doce, Pão de Açúcar and most recently Intermarché supermarkets.

The trick is to know what to buy, and more importantly, what not to buy. Portugal’s large supermarkets these days stock a great deal of fish imported from as far away as Uganda – farmed Nile perch/perca do nilo and catfish/peixe gato from different countries around Asia.

These are of course sustainable sources of fish, but if your reasons for eating farmed fish are environmental then there is the carbon footprint to be considered, and more importantly the cheap prices of these intercontinental imports are reflected in the poor quality.

If buying farmed fish, the conveniently plate-sized golden bream/dourada and sea bass/robalo coming mostly from Greece, and sometimes from Spain, represent good value for money. But of course, what we all want is fresh fish caught here in Portugal.

By checking the labels it’s easy to see if the fish is farmed and/or imported or wild and local. By law the supermarkets must display the provenance and source of fish. If labelled “Aquic” or “Aquicultura”, it is farmed and “capturado” means wild – caught from the ocean. And not all wild fish is as expensive as the likes of sea bass and golden bream. When shopping for fish at the supermarket I am always on the lookout for a good fresh ray/raia and oily fish like cavala, a type of herring, and of course sardines are always caught here in Portugal.

Just recently, pictured in the centre of the photo below, our local Intermarché has been carrying huge specimens of corvina – an excellent quality and very versatile fish. Although by no means cheap at nearly €20 per kilo, the steaks from the fish are almost totally meat so there is no waste.

Simply barbequed, being a firm and fatty fish, they are delicious, and the meat works equally well for oven roasting or simply poaching in water, drizzled with some good olive oil before serving.