What is a black scabbard fish and how to cook it?


The black scabbard, or black scabbard, is a popular meal on the island of Madeira. How does it taste? (Photo: Getty Creative)

Seafood is polarizing enough when it comes to the taste preferences of most Americans, but even the most avid fish lover can dismiss the atrocity that is Madeira’s black scabbard.

The Portuguese island is renowned for its diversity of ocean specialties like lapas (single-shelled limpets) and octopus, but the ugly saber stands out in a fisherman’s market like a sore thumb – or rather a long black thumb. with jagged teeth, eel-like eyes and a shiny exterior that looks straight up like an oil slick.

I’m not saying my animals have to be adorable before I consume them: choosing beef, pork, or lamb for dinner based on how cute it is is actually quite morbid. But one look at a black scabbard will make you think twice before biting into it. In fact, you may even convince yourself that he’s going to eat you first.

Sea monster?

Of course, this nightmare is impossible. Because the black scabbard lurk at depths of up to 1,700 meters, water pressure actually kills them when brought to the surface. Whether or not this practice is humane remains to be determined, but black scabbards literally don’t live to see the light of day.

And yet, locals go to great lengths to preserve the tradition of this famous ingredient. According to Sílvio de Freitas, owner and executive chef of Peixaria no Mercadothe scaleless banded fish is in fact so important to Madeira’s fishing industry that it accounts for almost 50% of its exports from the sea. Needless to say, Ursula isn’t too happy: she probably considers her friends, or her “poor little poops”, if you will.

big fish to fry

Never one to turn down the opportunity to immerse myself in the food of other cultures, I overcame my initial reluctance to try the black scabbard and gave it my all.

Traditionally the fish is served fried with local bananas and is one of Madeira’s most popular dishes.

“Its origin dates back to the 80s, when the need arose to combine this abundant fish in the waters of Madeira with the abundance of exotic fruits,” explains de Freitas. “The fillets themselves are seasoned with salt, garlic and lemon juice. They are then rubbed in beaten egg and flour and fried in olive oil until tender. they are golden.”

Locals also came up with creative iterations like adding a passion fruit sauce which has become increasingly popular in Funchal (the island’s bustling capital), especially among tourists.

Good taste

It is precisely the preparation that called my name, because I am passionate… about passion fruit. After tasting the dish several times, I can indeed confirm that the island’s most iconic dish is downright delicious. Its texture and taste most closely resemble that of haddock: lean white flesh with little oil, but a subtle sweetness and no indication of fish. I also enjoyed how the simple flavors of the tenderloin allowed the local produce, like the aforementioned passion fruit, to really shine.

While the black scabbardfish is essentially non-existent in the United States, its brighter sister, the silver scabbardfish, occasionally pops up and can be found in specialty seafood stores. (Or just use haddock.) That said, you can pay homage to the famous meal by using Madeira-inspired ingredients to capture the flavor profile. De Freitas even provided her own recipe below.

If there was ever an example of why not judge a book by its cover, it’s the black sheath. Just be sure to add parsley…and avoid any internet research just before eating.

Saber noir with fried bananas

Courtesy of Peixaria no Mercado

The black scabbard, as prepared by the Madeiran restaurant Peixaria no Mercado.  (Photo: Soren Lauridsen/Peixaria no Mercado)

The black scabbard, as prepared by the Madeiran restaurant Peixaria no Mercado. (Photo: Soren Lauridsen/Peixaria no Mercado)


  • 4 black scabbard fish fillets

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 cup flour

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or more, if needed)

  • 2 Madeira bananas (or plantains)

  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped


  1. Season the fillets with lemon juice, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Let them sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.

  2. In a container or bowl, put the flour. In another container or bowl, place the beaten egg.

  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

  4. Drain the fillets from the marinade and coat them in the flour and then in the beaten egg. Place them in the frying pan and fry them in hot oil until they take on a golden color. Drain the fillets on absorbent paper.

  5. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise. Pass them through the bowls of flour and eggs and fry them quickly in the oil until they take on a golden color. Let them also drain on absorbent paper.

  6. Place the fillets on a serving platter or plate. Place a piece of banana on each fillet. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with boiled potatoes. You can also make homemade passion fruit sauce to drizzle on top.

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