Ten things you didn’t know about shellfish
Manel Aguiar is one of the people in Portugal who knows most about seafood. He’s been dealing with it for 32 years – ever since he used to fetch seawater from the Boca do Inferno chasm on the rocky coast east of Cascais to change the water in his aquariums. Now in charge of the Marisqueira Azul, Manel has worked at many of the leading restaurants and marisqueiras (shellfish eateries) in Lisbon and the surrounding area. Here are some curiosities.
- Portuguese shellfish is among the best in the world. Not only because in Portugal the waters are cold and clean, but also because the Portuguese know how to cook it.
- The best way to cook shellfish is to do it as simply and naturally as possible. The taste of the sea is the best seasoning. For example, in the case of lobsters the best sauce is the juice from the lobsters themselves. Clams are best just with garlic and coriander, shrimp only with coarse salt, and so on.
- During the season of each kind of shellfish, most of the stuff that is eaten in Portugal comes from Portuguese waters.
- Every month around the Marisqueira Azul aquarium is temporary home to 200 kilos of crab and more than 70 kilos of Portuguese lobster. Around 140 kilos of tiger prawn is grilled here each month.
- The best months to eat crabs are those with an ‘r’, excepting March and April – that is, September, October, November, December, January and February). In these months the female are tastier and fatter; in other months the male crabs beat them.
- Shellfish that are only commonly caught in Portugal: bruxa (small European locust lobster), cavaco (Mediterranean slipper lobster), gamba do Algarve (deep-water pink shrimp), camarão de Espinho (redleg humpback shrimp), canivete (a type of razor clam) and the Portuguese oyster.
- The best tip when buying shellfish is to buy them while still alive.
- The best Portuguese shellfish: percebes (goose barnacles) from the Berlenga archipelago or Cabo da Roca where the sea is rough; the gamba do Algarve in Quarteira, the bruxas from Cascais, lapas (sea snails) from the Azores, and the amêijoa-boa (cross-cut carpet shell clam) from the Algarve.
- It is a common error to think that restaurants by the sea are always the ones with the freshest shellfish; this is often not the case.
- A prego do lombo (sirloin steak sandwich) is the best dessert after a shellfish meal.