Archive for the ‘Techniques and Tricks’ Category
The archetypal Portuguese wet rice, flavoured by a rich prawn stock is a must in any coastal restaurant. The capacity for producing a perfect arroz de camarão can make or break a chef’s reputation.
As with most prawn and shrimp dishes, the secret is to extract as much flavour as possible from the shells and heads. To cook with shelled shrimp meat is no more than a allusive reference to the unique taste of this remarkable seafood. Frozen at sea prawns are the most practical way of guaranteeing good results as sourcing fresh prawns is usually rather tricky. This recipe achieves its richness and flavour through the preparation of a stock used to cook the rice. The same stock can be used as a basis for a prawn velouté soup (creme de camarão).
Algarve Squid/Lulas à Algarvia
The Algarve region in the south of Portugal is renowned for guaranteed good weather, high levels of tourism but also excellent sea food, especially if one avoids restaurants serving chips with everything… This is an extremely simple recipe for small squid which brings out their natural salty taste and soft texture. Like with all squid cooking, timing is everything!
Serve with simple boiled potatoes and greens.
This is a common domestic recipe which produces a tasty and hearty chicken stew often served with boiled white rice or potato purée. Using jointed chicken with pieces on the bone adds to the taste but you can use breast pieces though only cook them for 15 minutes in the sauce after browned. Needless to say that you should use the best chicken you can afford for best results. A potato and celeriac purée complements the sweetness of this dish perfectly. Almost as good as the dish itself are the leftovers of boned chicken pieces which can be used to make excellent chicken pies (empadas de frango)!
Whole fish grilled over charcoal is a central focus for the 900 km of Portuguese coast. Simply prepared, seasoned with sea salt and grilled to perfection, one hardly needs anything other than a cold bottle of vinho verde! This recipe prepares the fish by opening it across the middle to allow for a larger grilled surface, hence maximising the charcoal flavour. This way of preparing fish makes it easier to grill just the right amount. As your dealing with a relatively thin piece of fish there is no danger of having a burnt skin and a raw middle! This also makes it easier to negotiate your way through the bones as they become more visible with the fish open in half.
Sea bass and other fish can be prepared in exactly the same way.
After all the curing, smoking and 4 months of hanging our ham was finally ready to play!
Still surprisingly moist, next time it will hang 6 to 8 months. People making home made cure hams in Portugal often leave them hanging from one year to the next. If the ham is too moist it becomes harder to cut thinly which is essential for this kind of ham. A ham holder together with a a special ham knife can facilitate the process considerably. As with all meat, the diet of the animal is key to taste and texture of the final product and maybe next time we will be able to experiment in a more controlled environment and perhaps with the famous acorn diet…
The ham was smooth in texture with a light smoky taste. It is reassuring to have an entire ham to cut from to serve for impromptu gatherings and snacks. The fat makes for an excellent addition to stews and roasts.
More from the ham project next year…
Hanging cured hams must be one of the signs of a happy dwelling. Restaurants, bars and homes across Portugal, Spain and Italy feature hanging hams which can receive as much attention as a small Picasso on the wall! Presunto, jamon and prociutto are not so much a food stuff as a synthesis of methods, techniques and tastes particular to each region and community.
Grilled squid is an extremely flexible ingredient which lends itself to a variety of combinations. This dish takes some of the flavours present in the classic “espetada de lula” (squid skewers) to form a rich and fresh sauce/salsa. Squid grills very quickly, the aim here is to give it a charcoal taste while maintaining its freshness.
This is a variation on the famous grilled chicken from Portugal, sometimes called Chicken Piri Piri though I’ve never heard any mention of this in Portugal!
Now, BBQ is a big topic! Once you get over the Anglo-Saxon obsession with cooking cheap and nasty bangers and burgers on what is possibly the best cooking method – grilling over lump-wood charcoal. The three letter word starts to become more useful. In Portugal, churrasco or grelhados ao carvão is often synonym with extremely fresh food, simply seasoned and cooked to perfection.The terminology is itself ambiguous and the words “assar” and “grelhar” are used interchangeably depending on the ingredients (e.g. sardinhas assadas, peixe grelhado)! Let’s keep it ambiguous!