Sardines are a big deal in Portugal. Together with bacalhau (salted cod), the sardine has become a symbol of Portuguese food and culture recognised around the world. A visitor to Portugal will not need to search much to see sardines on a menu, printed on t-shirts, made out porcelain, on designer goods etc…
Autumn in Portugal brings lots of goods, just when you think the plentiful summer has come to an end. With the colourful harvest of the vineyards arrive the chestnuts and the magustos, open air festivities celebrating the new wine with chestnuts roasted on a bonfire. Used as compliments to roast meats or as key ingredients in soups long before the potato was introduced from the new world, the chestnut is now a delicacy usually appreciated after a meal. This is the simplest and perhaps the most rewarding way of cooking chestnuts. While traditional roast chestnuts bring out a crispy and fluffy texture, boiling them brings out their unique sweet and nutty flavour.
Read about São Martinho, the chestnut day par excellence!
Caldo Verde is perhaps the most iconic of Portuguese soups. Originating from the north of the country, it has spread across Portugal and is traditionally served as a light first course to a grilled sardine feast. This recipe is a twist on the traditional and replaces potato with a mixture of cauliflower and avocado, making it healthier, low carb and absolutely delicious. The Caldo Verde identity relies not so much on the ingredients that provide sustenance and texture to the soup (traditionally potato) but rather on the extremely thinly of cutting green cabbage (couve galega) and the obligatory olive oil and chouriça. In the absence of the traditional couve galega, Caldo Verde can be made with very thinly sliced kale.
One of the classics amongst the 1001 bacalhau recipes that guide the Portuguese through each calendar year. This way of cooking cod intensifies its salty flavour and produces an irresistible sauce resulting from the mix of olive oil, garlic and the cod juices. Accompanying the cod is a bed of spring greens and the obligatory “batatas a murro”, baked potatoes, punched open just before serving.
Salted cod needs to be soaked in cold water for 2-3 days (depending on the thickness of the steaks). Water should be changed twice daily.
Atlantic mackerel (carapau) is by far the most popular variety of mackerel in Portugal. Its close cousin, the common mackerel (cavala) has been on the sidelines of Portuguese cooking for a number of years but is now enjoying a well deserved revival. Its health benefits together with unique taste and texture make this a prime choice for a fish meal. This recipe combines the strong taste of smoked mackerel with the sweetness of Rocha pears – the uniquely Portuguese pear variety created by the Rocha family in 1836 in Sintra.
This recipe claims no historical authenticity but is inspired by the first cookbook to be published in Portugal – Domingos Rodrigues’ Arte de Cozinha (1680). The book is a fascinating journey into a world of flavours that combine recently available spices like saffron, cinnamon and cardamon with european cooking methods. Th Portuguese discoveries of the XIV and XV century transformed the larder of not only Portuguese society but all of Europe as well bringing old Portuguese techniques to South America, India, China and Japan!
The sauce presented here is inspired by a combination of almond flour and egg yolk which seems to have been used as a standard technique for providing body and texture to sauces and soups in Rodrigues’ book. We use it here to produce a light and delicate sauce flavoured with mussel juice, served with roast asparagus.
Salted cod fritters are found everywhere in Portugal. You will encounter them in the most basic tascas (tavernas) and the poshest restaurant in Lisbon or Porto . This is a traditional way of using leftover bits of cod though this recipe offers a somewhat deluxe version with prime salted cod chunks fried in a light chick pea flour batter. With the chick pea (gram flour) replacing white flour and the olive oil replacing frying oil, this is as healthy as a fritter can get!
Portuguese families will not only revel on these wonderful snacks featuring our most precious salted fish but will also indulge in the quasi-omolette formed by frying the batter left over from coating the cod. There is inevitably a family member watching out for these…