Caldeirada de Peixe, a traditional Portuguese fish stew, is an iconic and incredibly delicious Portuguese fisherman’s stew, made with the catch of the day, fresh vegetables, and spices.
Like any Portuguese soup or Portuguese stew, recipes (and opinions) vary from region to region, town to town, and family to family. Made with fresh ingredients and homemade fish stock, you can’t go wrong, no matter the variation.
This recipe is presented in conjunction with Eating with the Ecosystem, a New England-based non-profit working to expand awareness of and access to local New England seafood.
That’s because the real purpose of this Portuguese fish stew, including recent recipe posts for bluefish recipes, black sea bass recipes, smoked mackerel recipes, baked clams oreganata, and grilled striped bass, is to showcase the undervalued, abundant, and sustainable fish here on the east coast.
In Portugal, Caldeirada de Peixe includes local fish species such as monkfish, skate, ray, conger, John Dory, sea bream, and sea bass. Here on the northeast coast of New England, Portuguese communities have adapted native New England fish into the dish such as cod, haddock, mackerel, and swordfish.
Basically, the best fish is whatever fish is local to you! If you live in New England, seek out the undervalued and sustainable species like porgy, black sea bass, monkfish, tautog, and bluefish.
If possible, use at least a few different species. Multiple species means more textures and flavors. I like pairing a mild whitefish and a full-flavored oily fish, like swordfish and mackerel. Some traditional recipes recommend at least 4 to 5 different species. Also, if possible, try to use some whole fish, cut into pieces. Whole fish adds a lot more flavor than just fillets.
For this Caldeirada recipe, I chose 2 pounds of monkfish and 2 whole black sea bass (pictured above). Monkfish is a great choice because the fillet is very dense and firm so it holds together nicely in the stew. I had my fishmonger slice the black sea bass into large pieces. I saved the heads and the tails for the fish stock.
Another benefit is that whole fish is a lot cheaper than fillets. I got the whole black sea bass for just $7.99 per pound. In fillet form, they were being sold for $25.99 per pound!
Smaller fish in the 1-pound range, like porgy, black sea bass, and mackerel are great choices. If you can’t (or don’t want) to include whole fish pieces, the next best cuts of fish would be bone-in steaks, followed by loins, and then fillets. Try to avoid flaky white fish as it can easily flake and fall apart when cooked.
Also, try to avoid overfished and farmed species from overseas such as Atlantic salmon, cod, and tilapia.
Finally, many Portuguese fish stew recipes also include shellfish like clams and mussels as well as octopus, shrimp, and squid. Shellfish will especially add some nice additional flavors.
I’m going to stick with a more straightforward Caldeirada de Peixe and only use fish. I’m also going to include perhaps the most underrated but most important ingredient of all.
Hands down, the best fish broth/fish stock is one that you make yourself. It will add beautiful fragrant background flavors to your Caldeirada de Peixe, or any fish stew/soup, for that matter. Made properly, a homemade fish broth does not taste fishy. On the contrary, it has a subtly fresh taste and aroma. My fish broth post includes a simple recipe for making homemade fish broth.
The next best choice is Aneto Fish Broth, an outstanding store-bought product. Aneto is the only store-bought product that does not use chemical flavorings and/or doesn’t taste flat and overly fishy tasting. For that reason, I really can’t recommend anything else. See my review of all the store-bought seafood stock and broth products and why Aneto is the best one by a nautical mile.
Finally, if you’re really in a pinch, clam juice is a decent substitute for fish broth. Clam juice has a strong flavor so make sure to dilute it in water first.
A note about the use of hot and spicy chilies. You can use chili powder, chili flakes, a fresh hot pepper, or hot sauce. I’ve read that fresh chiles in Portugal are not widely consumed, with perhaps the exception of the piri piri pepper (also spelled peri-peri), which is more commonly used in hot sauce form. My experience with Portuguese cuisine here in New England confirms this. Many dishes are mildly spicy and not extremely hot like in other areas of the world.
It’s hard to find fresh piri piri peppers or even piri piri hot sauce in conventional supermarkets here in the US. If you have access to a specialty Portuguese or Latin food store, you may find a brand or two. You can make the stew as spicy or not spicy as you’d like. Just know that a true Portuguese fish stew will have some heat but it is not typically fiery hot.
Another unique feature of Caldeirada de Peixe is layering the ingredients in the pot and then simmering until everything is cooked through.
A layer typically consists of onions on the bottom, followed by tomatoes, peppers, and garlic, followed by potatoes, and then the fish. It’s then seasoned with bay leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper and everything is simmered over medium heat for about 20 to 30 minutes.
How many layers you build in the pot depends on your serving size. One layer is perfectly fine for a smaller serving. Larger servings typically have two layers and you could even do more for a very large serving though you’d need a good-sized stockpot for that. I’m going to make my Portuguese fish stew by building two layers. One little thing I do differently than many recipes is that I simmer the first layer of onions, garlic, and peppers in olive oil. This helps bring out some nice flavors in the stew.
Here’s a short video demonstrating how it all comes together…
Crusty bread, of course! Portuguese bread, Italian bread, French bread, or really any type of crusty bread is the perfect complement.
You could also serve the stew over some cooked white rice.
Yes, it will hold up pretty well for about 3 to 4 months. Make sure it’s cooled first. Transfer the stew to storage containers and make sure everything is submerged in the broth.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.