I haven’t been to Portugal enough. I open with that bald statement for two reasons. The first is that it’s a lovely country of friendly people, wonderful history and gorgeous wines, so why wouldn’t I want to visit it? The second very good reason is that, having done a bit of research for this recipe, I’ve come to realise that Portugal’s food culture and cuisine is far more delicious and tempting than I had previously given it credit for. Of course, my experience was based on a week away with the lads playing golf on the Algarve, so it was hardly fair. That beer and wine-washed week just didn’t prepare me for the food that I’ve found on taking a deeper delve into Portuguese recipes and food culture.
Naturally, I knew about the seafood that finds its way into the ports of the long Atlantic coast, like its famous sardines, and I had enjoyed suckling pig with enormous relish while I was there. I was also, perhaps more dimly, aware of the adventurousness of the Portuguese fishermen who had sailed across the Atlantic to the huge shoals of cod that could be found off Newfoundland, getting it home without launching mass food poisoning on the population and probably establishing to the Portuguese fascination – no, let’s be honest about it, obsession – with salt cod. And I knew that country’s history of global exploration, trade (those two going hand-in-hand) and imperialism led to dishes like the Mozambican inspired piri-piri sauce and the original vindaloo of Goa! And the Portuguese are alleged to have introduced tempura to Japan too (derivation of the Portuguese verb tempera, to cook).
An element that links a lot of Portuguese cuisine with others in the south of Europe is the quality of making the very best of what you have. From the simplest ingredients prepared with enormous skill come dishes that are way more than the sum of their parts appear to be. The two recipes that follow are in that vein, requiring nothing unusual, expensive, or hard to come by, yet having a deliciousness that belies their simplicity. The first is a seafood, a kind of Portuguese paella if I dare say that, though a little closer to a satisfying rice-filled soup. The second is my version of a classic pork, clams and peppers dish from the south. For the latter, many Portuguese use a bought-in salted-pepper paste that is hard to replicate unless you have time and patience, which I don’t often have at the same time (and the pork already needs a lengthy marinade), so I’ve simplified it a tad, for which I hope I will be forgiven. We enjoyed it greatly. I hope you do too.
Recipe: Arroz de Marisco (Portuguese seafood stew with rice)
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 200 ml dry white wine
- 4 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
- ½ fresh chilli, deseeded and chopped (or use a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
- 375g risotto rice
- 1.5 litres of fish stock (use chicken or vegetable stock if you’d prefer)
- 300g uncooked mussels in the shell (or use clams)
- 300g raw king or tiger prawns in their shell
- 150g squid cut into rings (alternatively use scallops, crab meat, small pieces of white fish)
- Salt and cracked black pepper
- 1 small bunch of coriander
- A lemon cut into wedges
1. Put a large pan that has a lid on the hob over a moderate heat and add the olive oil.
2. Add the garlic and a few seconds later, after the garlic has just flavoured the oil without colouring, add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until it has begun to soften without colouring, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the sweet smoked paprika and cook for another minute or two to release its aromatics.
4. Add the tomato purée and cook for two more minutes.
5. Add the white wine, chopped tomatoes and chilli and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.
6. Add the rice and stir in the wine and onion mixture for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 10 or 12 minutes.
7. After 10 minutes remove the lid, add the mussels, replace the lid and cook for another four or five minutes.
8. Remove the lid and check the mussels. If any haven’t opened remove and discard them.
9. Add the prawns and cook for a few minutes until they are just pink, then add the squid rings and cook for two minutes, no more so that the squid stays tender.
10. It’s now time to check how the rice and broth look. Remember you are looking more for a thick soup consistency than a risotto, and if the rice mixture looks a little too thick add a touch more stock to loosen it up a little. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to you. If you like it soupier, then go for it.
11. Once you have the consistency you want, season with the salt and pepper to taste and it’s ready to serve. Once plated, sprinkle over the coriander, and serve, perhaps with a hunk of crusty bread.
Wine: Though it is essentially a fish dish there are some robust flavours here. Happily, Portugal has an ever-increasing range of wite wines with bags of character and refreshment to take on the balancing act with it. Esporão Monte Velho Branco, Alentejano 2020 is a stone-fruited and vibrant banker here, and the creamy notes of the peachy Adega de Redondo Porta da Ravessa Branco, Alentejano 2020 will do nicely too. The gentle skin-contact grip of the mouthwatering Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho, Vinho Verde 2020 will be deliciously refreshing too. The oak notes of Crasto Superior Branco, Douro 2019 will handle the smoky hints of the paprika in the dish with aplomb too. A rosé will be delightful and both the Adega de Redondo Mare Viva Rosé, Alentejano 2020 and Macanita Touriga Nacional Rosé, Douro 2020 will come up trumps here. If it’s a red you are after choose one that is not going to overpower the fish. Look to the easy-going Adega de Redondo Real Lavrador, Alentejano 2019 for a juicy partner, or try the herby Carlos Lucas Ribeiro Santo, Dão 2020. Push the boat out just a little with the Niepoort Lagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2018 for its finesse.
Recipe: Porco Alentejana (Pork with clams)
(Overnight marinating required)
- 1 kg trimmed pork tenderloin or boneless loin chops, cut into thick slices or chunks
- 5 large red peppers (use roasted red peppers from a jar if you like. The Portuguese use a red pepper paste called massa de pimentão but I’m jiggered if I could get any. By all means use it instead of the peppers if you can lay your hands on some).
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt flakes
- 200ml olive oil plus a little for frying
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
- 300mls dry white wine (Portuguese of course)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tsp tomato purée/paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 kg clams (frozen work beautifully)
- Handful of fresh coriander (use parsley if you’re not a coriander fan)
- If using the pork tenderloin of chops, cut them into chunks.
- Roast the whole peppers over an open flame or barbecue to char them. You can roast them in an oven if you prefer, but I find it never gives quite the same scorch and flavour. Char or roast them until all sides are blackened, then seal them inside a plastic bag to steam while still hot.
- After ten minutes or so in the bag the roasted peppers should be ready to peel. Remove them from the bag and using the edge of a spoon peel away the blackened skin as much as you can. A little left on is fine and adds to the flavour. Once the skin is removed, cut open the peppers and removed the core and seeds and cut away any stalk.
- Lay the skinned, deseeded peppers in a bowl and sprinkle over the salt and leave for a couple of hours. Rinse the peppers of excess salt and put them into a food processor or blender with the two paprikas, then add the oil and blitz until a smooth paste. Once you have a paste, mix in the white wine.
- Pour the red pepper paste over the pork chunks and mix well, making sure all the pork is coated in the marinade. Cover and leave to marinate for 10 hours or more. Overnight is ideal.
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large lidded pan or casserole until hot.
- Strain off the marinade from the pork, retaining as much of the marinade as you can.
- In the hot pan fry the pork chunks in batches until each has turned golden brown, then set aside.
- In the same pan, add a little more oil and over a low heat sauté the chopped onion until softened.
- Add the tomato purée and cook for two or three minutes, stirring while doing so.
- Add the pork back into the pan, then add the marinade/pepper mixture and the bay leaf. Cook uncovered over a fairly high heat until the marinade mixture has reduced by about half.
- Once the sauce has reduced by half, add the clams to the pan and put the lid on and cook for a few minutes until the clams have just opened. Remove and discard any clams that stay stubbornly closed.
- Serve in warmed bowls and sprinkle with the coriander. The Portuguese often add fried potatoes to the dish or serve it with a side of chips, hearty additions that make the dish go a lot further if you have a few more people at the table.
Wine: Ideally this needs a well-formed but fruity red that will take the chilli spice and smokiness of the dish in its stride. I’d look at good value reds like The Society’s Portuguese Red, Peninsula de Setubal 2020, Al Ria Tinto, Algarve 2019, Lagoalva Tejo, 2019 all of them delightfully fruity. The succulent Casa Ermelinda Freitas Dona Ermelinda Reserva, Palmela 2018 offers a little more structure but won’t overpower the clams, while the Niepoort Lagar de Baixo Bairrada 2018 offers restrained freshness and lithe fruit. The Lagoalva de Cima Grande Reserva Alfrocheiro, Tejo 2017 would be a treat, with its touch of maturity coming through and its grip but also silky freshness. Among the whites you should search for body and structure as well as refreshment. Wines like the oak-aged Quinta da Fonte Souto Branco, Alentejo 2019 or creamy Adega de Redondo Porta da Ravessa Special Edition Branco, Alentejano 2020 will do a job, while a rosé like the Macanita Touriga Nacional Rosé, Douro 2020 or Adega de Redondo Mare Viva Rosé, Alentejano 2020 will offer a happy medium.
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