welcome to emmas housethought

the fish truck

Visitors are invariably impressed that every morning a little van comes by to sell us fresh bread and cakes. I guess it reminds them of the milkman who delivered daily in our childhoods. It’s a sweet, old fashioned service that trumps the idea that things were better in the old days.


We also have a frozen-things truck that comes on Fridays and a fish truck that comes on Wednesdays. Some villages have more – maybe also a veggie truck. Where I was houseminding the fish truck came three times a week, which really meant you never had to leave the house. And that’s of course why they exist. With the villages of Portugal mostly populated by old people, many of whom don’t drive, these deliveries are more like a necessity. Sure, many of them are also living out of their gardens and chicken coops, but who has sardines in their fish ponds?

It’s one of things my dad would have liked about Portugal had he been alive long enough to visit. My dad loved fish. And while he also liked to make that special, private trip to the fish shop on a Friday evening, I’m sure he would’ve been tickled pink at the sound of the truck’s horn right at his door.


I am, in any case. I love it most when I’ve forgotten it’s Wednesday, and then suddenly there are all these choices for dinner. Will it be sardines, fish soup or grilled salmon? Fish and chips? Vietnamese salt and pepper squid? Fish is so great, my dad reckoned, because you can get away with so few other ingredients. Lemon, butter, salt and pepper, bit of parsley… anything else might be superfluous for a nice piece of fish. I’m sure the Portuguese are of the same school. My neighbours almost always only buy sardines, and they are always just grilled with some garlic, salt and olive oil. They don’t even bother scaling, gutting or chopping off the head! Rustic as hell, and honestly, the way they taste straight off the coals, I wonder why I go to all the fuss I that I do.


Still, I like the versatility of fish. I like making it Asian or Italian or even Cajun. And even though the squid is only about €6 kilo, and the sardines about €3 kilo, it always feels like a bit of mid-week luxury. And the pets love it too. Once while preparing dinner, Mao and I scoffed down a whole steak of salmon, sashimi style, before it could make it into the pan. The neighbours were in shock when I told them – Raw fish?!? Vais morrer! Even The Wookie gets in on the fish guts and heads, provided I’ve fried them up with a bit of garlic and oil, bien sur.

Stuffed Squid

The inspiration for this comes from a great little Italian restaurant called La Locanda, in Clovelly in Sydney. It’s the kind of place everyone would like at the end of their street, a not-too-up-itself but good & authentic Italian bistro.

In winter (and I’m sure this is some culinary faux pas, but I don’t care, it works both ways) I swap the white wine for red, which stains the squid in a nice way when it’s cooking.


2 or 3 squid tubes per person, but it really depends on the size of them…
half cup rice, cooked
an onion
a carrot, finely diced
lemon zest
red capsicum, finely diced

half tin tomatoes
cup white wine
some parsley and lemon to serve.

To clean the squid, remove the tentacles and bits from inside the body and peel off the fine skin. Cut off the head at the beak, remove the beak, being careful not to disturb the ink sac, and rinse well in cold water, but don’t leave the squid in the water or they’ll soak it up like a sponge. Chop up the tentacles and mix with all the stuffing ingredients.

I have a trick for stuffing both squid and cannelloni tubes, and it goes like this. Stick the end of a funnel into the tube, put the stuffing in the funnel and poke it through with a chopstick. Be careful when filling squid not to fill them much more than half way, as the tubes shrink as they are cooking and they’ll squeeze out their filling like they’ve vomited into the cooking pan. Not a good look.


Plop the filled tubes and any leftover stuffing into a frypan or a small oven dish and throw on the tomatoes and wine and some salt and pepper. The idea with squid (and their friends octopus and cuttlefish) is to either cook them very fast or very slowly. So, on high on the cooktop for 10 minutes, or on low in the oven (or fireplace as I do) for about 40 minutes to an hour. I prefer the slow method for the flavour.

You could serve it with a salad, but I usually have it as is. Yum.

Pan fried sardines with parmesan crust.

Tia Maria once asked me how I’d cooked my sardines the night before. Once I’d shared this slightly fiddly recipe, she just shook her head in wonder. Sardines and cheese?

First I gently scale the little fish with a steak knife, then chop off their heads and gut them. Then I flatten them out on a chopping board, sometimes removing the spine, sometimes not, depending on how big they are and how chunky the bones. Then I wash them and leave them on a tea towel to drain. I make a 50/50 mix of toasted breadcrumbs and grated parmesan (actually the powdery fine stuff is good for this because it’s dry). I rub in a crushed garlic or two, some parsley, and season it well. Then I dunk the fillets in milk or egg, or if they are still damp, nothing at all, and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs mixture. Then you pan fry them in about a centimetre of hot olive oil (or a mix of olive and vegetable oil to get the oil hot enough for a cleaner, faster fry) and serve them with a salad and lemon wedges.

If they are small sardines, they’d be great for finger food at a party as all the little bones are perfectly edible and very good for you. They are also excellent the next day in a fresh crusty roll from the bread truck.


Fish Phở.

Apparently my fish soup is all right. I like it for it’s simplicity: just a steamy bowl of broth and some clean fresh fish. This is another recipe in the Saudades for Yens category; when I´m missing the food of a great Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney. So this fish soup, while not a true Phở, has been Vietnam-ised.

for the stock:
2 leeks
a big onion
garlic a carrot and/or stick of celery, finely diced
whole black peppercorns
chopped parsley
half cup white wine or sherry (or jerupiga)

A mix of filleted fish – as in a calderada sold by the fishmonger. A mix of pink and white fleshed fish is good, and even better if there are some bones and skin still attached to the pieces.

for finishing the soup:
half an onion, finely sliced in half rounds
150g per person of rice noodles
bean sprouts
a big handful of Vietnamese mint or Thai basil, if you can get it, or instead I use a mix of coriander & mint
cut limes
a shot of fish sauce or nuoc nam

Fry up the onion, sliced leek and garlic. Throw in the rinsed fish, the carrot and peppercorns and a litre of water. Let the stock simmer gently for a hour or so. Drain off the solids, rescuing the fish pieces. Separate the flesh from the bones and return these to the pot with the drained stock and the sliced onion. Cover the noodles in boiling water and then stack the bowls with hot noodles and sprouts. Pour on the stock and fish, and serve with the lime quarter, nuoc nam and a pile of the herb greens. Yum.



  1. Maria Silva May 22, 2010 1:14 pm Reply

    Emma, I just love to read your blogs! They are so funny and yet so informative and a great read! It brings back memories of my childhood, spending holidays at my grandparents village! I remember so well the fish van and the bread van!!! Going back some 40 years… apparently things haven’t changed much! I also loved the recipes, I do cook stuffed squid, but I add chopped ‘chourico’ as well. Yum!! I’m definitely going to try your fish soup, if you don’t mind! Thanks!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 22nd, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    nice one maria, and yes… I´m sure the chourico would be a fine addition…

    [Reply to comment]

    Samantha@ Living In The Sun   Reply: May 25th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    @Maria Silva, Those sardines are realy making me hungry I will have to try them they look delicious.
    Thank you!!!

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Katharina May 22, 2010 6:57 pm Reply

    I’m hungry now….gosh I miss our dinner parties. Need to visit you soon again…miss you my friend. xxx

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 22nd, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Yeah, me too. I miss our enormous salads. x

    [Reply to comment]

  3. PAULO REIS May 22, 2010 8:30 pm Reply

    I emma have you haver try charcoal grilled chocos com tinta …?(cuttle fish with it’s own ink ) then lemon butter and parsley with litle new potatoes boild and salad …plus red wine and home made bread in a pizza oven…and a sieta ander a grape vine, enjoy the trip

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Richard May 22, 2010 11:00 pm Reply

    Ahhh some of my fondest moments in Cascais were having Sardines and Carapao on the open flame grill/bbq! Just divine! Topped off with a glass of red – doesn`t come any better than that! Keep up the awesome work Emma!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 22nd, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Oh yes….mmmmm… I´ve just has 9 days of arroz do marisco, couldn´t get enough of it….thanks rich

    [Reply to comment]

  5. Celia May 22, 2010 11:58 pm Reply

    Yes, I remember the fish truck coming through the village with their never-ending horn. It’s awesome! There was also a bread truck, too, but Avo tells me that they don’t come around anymore. I’m jealous Emma, You are living the dream…my dream, at least. I’m still trying to brainwash my husband to move to Portugal. I think he will change his mind once we visit more. Again, can’t wait to meet you on our next visit. Stay true!

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Anna May 23, 2010 12:14 pm Reply

    Your story made me laugh,I can imagine the horror of your neighbor knowing you eat sashimi,it’s not part of their culture,yet they’ll eat the grilled sardine with the guts,go figure.
    Red wine is ok with squid the Portuguese do this too.The squid looks great,I love adding chorizo & prosunto to the stuffing it adds great flavor.
    We need those food vans here in rural Australia, I wonder if it would take off.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 26th, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Maybe if the food vans had frozen fish, or just vegies, or cakes! Here you never feel far from the sea (unlike interior australia) 🙂

    [Reply to comment]


  7. Ana Teresa Pinheiro May 25, 2010 1:43 am Reply

    Another great post.
    When you grill fish is better not to scale it as the scales protect the flesh from the hot grill.
    And I just loved your sardine’s. I usually season the “filetes” with chopped garlic, salt, black pepper and lemon juice. Let them be for an hour or so and them pass them by flour, beatten egg and breadcrumbs. The flour and egg gives them an amasing crust.
    And your father was absolutely right. That is the best way to eat fresh fish.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 26th, 2010 at 12:50 am

    ah-ha – I never thought of that.. the scales stop the skin from sticking to the grill… very sensible! thanks ana

    [Reply to comment]

    Ana Teresa Pinheiro   Reply: May 26th, 2010 at 1:31 am

    @Emma, Always learnning… 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  8. Expat Women May 27, 2010 8:22 pm Reply

    Hi Emma,

    Regina here, for ExpatWomen.com.

    I would like to personally invite you to list your blog on our Expat Women Blog Directory (www.expatwomen.com/expatblog/) so that other women can read about and learn from your expat experiences.

    Many thanks in advance for your contribution and keep up your great blog!


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 29th, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Too bloody right, love, count me in! Maybe those girls might learn to stay home and behave themselves 😉

    [Reply to comment]


  9. Marielys May 28, 2010 6:56 pm Reply

    Dear Emma i dont visit your posts often enough but that doesnt mean i dont appreciate them 🙂 You’re dead right, fish is wonderful and so versatile. I had a portuguese helper ( when I lived in Portugal) who told me that prior to the 1974 revolution they had fresh bread and milk delivered at their door …. everyday! It really, as you say, reminds you of England and the milkman. She was from Alentejo and they also had fresh fish delivered several times a week. Nothing like the portuguese to make life easier dont you think ?

    I managed to find a portuguese recipe’s website, they have this stuffed squid recipe that my alentejo lady used to cook for us :


    The site its called : Roteiro gastronomico Portugal and one can choose english. Its a great site with recipes from all the regions of Portugal and those fantastic traditional desserts. I usually cut sugar by half, they are old recipes and .. too sweet for my taste.

    Enjoy and take care 🙂


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 29th, 2010 at 9:44 am

    but it just doesn´t sound the same in english! Thanks Marielys… you should subscribe! Get every post home delivered so you never miss a single word 😉

    [Reply to comment]

  10. yozzee May 30, 2010 7:02 am Reply

    There’s something about fish on a Friday. Growing up in a protestant family in Liverpool I remember Thursday night was whatever could be found. Friday was payday, the night for fish and chips from the mobile chip shop. Well sometimes it was…


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 30th, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Fish on a friday is a catholic thing! During lent you´re not meant to eat meat on fridays… and maybe people made it a habit… and then it spread, to protestants, even muslims and hindus started taking up a friday fish habit. Suddenly people everywhere started eating fish, fish and more fish, on mondays, wednesdays and sometimes fish fingers or a crab stick on a saturday…

    [Reply to comment]

  11. yozzee May 31, 2010 3:08 am Reply

    It’s certainly a christian thing. The way I remember it is you couldn’t eat meat on ‘Good Friday’, you had to eat fish.

    In those days fish was expensive and considered a luxury so once a week was pushing it.

    Now I love to eat fish grilled, fried, oven cooked or thrown in one pot to be cooked slowly


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 31st, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    yep, you´re right about good friday, it´s not lent… but in my house I actually believed it was EVERY friday, because I think my dad altered the rules to fit his culinary preferences 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  12. mariola stone June 2, 2010 7:37 am Reply

    Yep eating fish on a Friday is definitely a catholic thing, but when I wanted to feed it to some Polish relatives they informed me that it was no longer de rigeur as the Pope had relaxed that rule. How can they change the rules that way- but that’s a whole other can of sardines!!!! Needless to say I’m totally lapsed in that department. I’d eat fish at every meal but in the UK its still expensive- rats!

    [Reply to comment]

  13. Rui July 7, 2010 10:48 pm Reply

    Hi, Emma.
    My name is Rui, I’m Portugese and, like you, I’m an expat. I don’t realy like that word, but, ok, never mind.

    I just found your blog today and I’ve been reading it the whole day. I’m glag to see that you ar enjoying the country.

    I specially enjoyed the post on the best cafes and this one. I’m lilving with my wife, who is very pregnant, in the Netherlands, 30kms or so from the German border and we do have those fish trucks too.

    It feels a bit strange since I used to live near the coast and sometimes bought fish directly from fisherman, but, at least, they have sardines.

    And if you want to see a really nice cafe, you have to go to Majestic in Porto,http://www.cafemajestic.com/.

    Well, keep on enjoying the country.

    Met vriendelijke groeten (that’s ‘best wishes’ in Dutch)

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 8th, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Thanks Rui x

    [Reply to comment]


  14. Tessa Morris July 11, 2012 8:37 pm Reply

    Hi Little Em, loving the fish recipes and am going to try them all (esp the stuffed squid with Chorizo (as per your reader suggestion) . You could always come back here for 6 months, open a Emma’s Portugese Pop Up – and serve things in a back alley off a brazier (the nastier the alley the better it seemes to be populated). Honestly its all the rage here now (you know Sydney … ” i know a great back alley secret dining experience that no one else does blah blah …”) 6 months and then its gone. No licsenses no laws. I note that last years wines seemed a better lot than this years according to the scores and comments but so wish I was there for the party (Felicity Keith – that’s me or in fact now I come to thin of it – The Good Life is really you and The One isn’t it but with no Gerry and Margo next door?) Tessa x

    [Reply to comment]


  15. Steve January 29, 2014 8:01 pm Reply

    Just cooked your stuffed squid recipe. It turned out really well, and I was really happy with the result. Thank you! However, most of the portions, techniques, measurements, temperatures etc I had to ‘make up’ as i went as you didn’t mention them in your recipe. E.g. what temperature to you regard as ‘low’ in the oven? etc…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 29th, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    @Steve, back then I was cooking over an open fire and a massive ancient wood burning bread oven, so I dunno really… 180-200C for about 20 minutes?

    [Reply to comment]

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