Madeira’s fish dishes


What you will very often find on the menu with some notes if you wish to know more about the dish itself and how it is made.

Madiera is famous for fish and serves some of the finest and freshest fish in the world and in “Espada” it has one of the most unique fish dishes anywhere in the world.

If you have time visit the Mercardo in Funchal which is bustling with fantastic fruit and vegetable stalls and a wonderful lively fish market…..head up to the balcony and admire the skills of the fish mongers and the freshness of the sea.

Espada or Scabbard fish – Madeiran Sword Fish

The “scabbard fish”  – Espada not to be confused with swordfish….(espadarte) is a delicacy notionally limited to Madeira and the Azores.
This fish is a black eel like creature that lives at great depths – 800 metres deep off Madeira. The fishermen of Camora de Lobos are expert in catching this fish, deploying lines over 1.5 kilometers in length.
The fish are caught in the dark early hours of the morning, and the days catch can be seen in the Mercado (market) in central Funchal.
While this fish may not look appertising….which fish do? But this one looks positively fierce. However once expertly prepared and “steaked” espada with its delicate delicious firm white flesh is a delight. This is often called “rolos
Espada is usually served lightly battered and pan fried in butter, along with banana and salad, and very often fries. If the fish is fresh, and it usually is, it is a truly enjoyable dish, made more so with a glass of Verdelho.
Espada com vinho e alhos sees the fish marinated in wine and vinegar and then fried in olive oil….this is a very typical Maderian way of preparing espada.
More up-market restaurants offer espada in a variety of sauces often fruit based and with little twists of spices or with a white wine or champagne sauce and garnished with prawns.

A typical accompaniment is Batatas cortadas com feijão e maçarocas:Sliced ​​potatoes with beans and sweet corn cobs, The potato semilha is a widely cultivated in Ribeira da Janela.

Espadarte –  Swordfish

This fish Espadarte is quite common on the menu of the many restaurants that specialize in seafood  on the island. Other fish often seen on menus include Pargo- Bream and Salmonete –  Red Mullet all usually freshly caught and bought for the day and displayed in refrigerated cabinets by seafood restaurants.

Em cladeira – Fish Hot Pot or stew

Em cladeira is a fish stew or hotpot, with a  single fish cooked in a light onion and tomato stock.
This is not a commonly seen on offer on many of the cafe bar style restaurants, but it is worth hunting out in the more traditional style restaurants.
or sometimes 


Caldeirada is a typical Portuguese stew, very much appreciated by Madeirans.
This delicious specialty consists of a large variety of fish, with tomato, potatoes and onion. Sometimes, instead of fish, it can also be with shellfish.


You may see Truta – Trout on an occasional menu, and trout is found in several Madeiran streams and there is a trout farm at Chão da Ribeira.

Arroz de mariscos – Seafood paella

This dish is found at seafood specialist restaurants and is an excellent way to try the variety of fish available in Madeira.

Arroz de Marisco

This is similar to the seafood paella Arroz de mariscos as it is seafood and rice. This dish is more likely to have a stronger tomato and onion base, but will contain fish and shellfish.

Matching a wine to  these dishes is a little difficult as “ingredients are subject to variation”  ……if  you suspect a fuller richer dish go towards the reds  or a zingy rose, if not a white wine will work well, perhaps a Palmeira e Volta which is a white based  on Vedelho but with a touch of Bual (and Arnsburgur), but is just rich enough to cope with the richness of rice seafood and herbs.


This fish dish is not native to Madeira, it is the national dish of Portugal and comes in many many varieties. It is based on dried salted cod and is cooked in many different ways so best advice is to ask how the dish will be prepared and served.

One version of Bacalhau  is sliced salt cod baked in a creamy sauce with chopped onion and potatoes.

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

This is a much more soft and easy way of enjoying salt cod fish and the authors favourite. The fish is mixed with sliced potatoes, onions and boiled eggs (and sometimes rice), it is gently seasoned with herbs and has a delightful note of olive oil. This makes an excellent supper.

Bacalhau is a strong tasting dish and a red, rose or white wine can work with this dish. A Quinta do Moledo Red would be good as would a Seiçal rose  or a Terras do Avô Madeiran white which is 95% Verdelho grape.

Atum – Tuna

Tuna is still caught locally and is also imported and is prepared “escabeche” style – which means the fish has been marinated and then fried. Tuna is also salted for a day prior to cooking. The marinade is often olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley and a pinch of oregano.
Tuna is also grilled and served with an onion sauce and accompanied by milho frito….. this is deep fried cubes of maize flour flavoured with cabbage and herbs.
Corn Baked or Fried Corn Bread with Homemade Sweet Potato Cake and salad is often served with Tuna.
Lightly grilled tuna works well with sercial.

Lapas – Limpets       

Limpets are also native to Madeira, but not widely available, being the preserve of more traditional and up-market restaurants.
The limpets are quite chewy in comparison to mussels and other shell fish. The limpets are usually grilled or pan fried and served in their open shells with very few additions other than lemon juice and garlic.
They are an excellent starer when accompanied with a glass of dry sercial.

Lapas e arroz

Limpets with rice, and here the limpets are cooked with onion, garlic and a stock with rice soaking up the flavours.
To cook: Place the olive oil, butter, limpets, onion, garlic, chicken stock in a pan. When the butter has been melted, stir a little once in a while. Next, place two cups of rice and stir from time to time. Then, add four cups of boiled water. Let it boil and stir occasionally until all water is gone.
This is a more substantial dish and an excellent main course. A white Madeiran table wine  would work with this dish perhaps a Palmeira e Volta.
Lulas Squid
Squid is caught off Madeira, and is often offered on a menu. Apolo the café and snack bar close to the Cathedral in Funchal offers excellent grilled squid.Sercialmakes an excellent accompaniment for squid.
While not every restaurant offers squid, it is usually excellent, fresh and tender and is served in a variety of ways form lightly fried to a garlic led delight.

Cavalas com Molho de Vilão – Mackeral

Grilled Mackerel with a sauce made of onion, vinegar and spices is quite a traditional meal and is found on menus on occasions. A difficult dish to pair with wine, but a sercial. may hold its own!

Açorda de Camarão com Amêijoas  “A Bready – eggy confection with Clams & Shrimp”

Hard bread is used to create this very flavoursome dish of clams and shrimps flavoured with tomato and coriander and the egg yolks are added at the end to bring the dish together.
To cook:

For 4 people

1 kg of Shrimp
4 Langostines whole
600 grams of Clams
1 loaf of hard, not stale, brown Bread
4 cloves of garlic
100ml of olive oil
250 grams of tomatoes skinned and deseeded
1 small bunch of chopped coriander
3 egg yolks
salt to taste
white pepper to taste

Wash the clams and leave them in a bowl of water in the fridge some time before you begin.

Change the water several times until they have expelled any sand or grit.

Boil the shrimps and langostines in water seasoned with a little salt. Reserve the cooking water. Peel the shrimps and cut them into pieces, leave the langostines whole.

Bring the water back to the boil, add the shrimp heads and shells, simmer for 10 minutes. (Strain and keep this stock).

Wash the clams reject any that are open, boil them until they open and this time reject any that don’t open.

Cut the bread into pieces and soften in a little shrimp stock.

In a large saucepan place the chopped the garlic and brown in olive oil, add the chopped tomatoes, bread, shrimp, clams and chopped coriander.

Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, add the egg yolks just before serving (they will cook in the hot mixture) and garnish with the langostines.