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).
Mixing rice and broccoli never struck me as a natural combination until I saw it as a side dish for meat dishes in Portuguese restaurants in Rio de Janeiro. Classic places like Nova Capela in Rio’s Lapa district serve it with a delicious roast kid. This is a simple and quick version which keeps the freshness of the broccoli by adding them just before the rice is cooked.
This dish is common across the north of Portugal and uses the octopus to provide an intense flavoured stock in which to cook a moist risotto served with long crispy strips fried in a light batter. Octopus is normally boiled before it is used in a dish such as Polvo à Lagareiro in which the octopus is grilled to achieve a crispy texture on the outside while remaining soft on the inside. Since my post on Polvo à Lagareiro the number of tips on how to properly boil an octopus has increased yet again… My favourite is to hold the octopus by its head over a boiling pot of water and dip the end of the tentacles three times (about 10 cm into the water) then finally adding the whole octopus. This is done to achieve a nice curly finish at the end of the tentacles. My new preferred tip is to use an un peeled onion to provide a richer colour and a cork from a wine bottle…
This is a quintessential Portuguese side dish, accompanying grilled or fried fish and meat. Numerous variations render it dry (“seco”), wet (“a correr” or “malandrinho”), with peppers etc… Although not usually eaten on its own like a risotto it can easily become the centrepiece of a meal as in a cult road restaurant near Pombal which constantly distributed clay pots of just made tomato rice amongst its many tables as guests helped themselves to all kinds of bite sized fried delicacies such as bolos de bacalhau, rissois, croquetes and many more… This is a basic recipe which can either be served immediately (wet) or let dry slightly so it gains a slightly creamier texture.
This dish combines two key flavours of Portuguese cooking: rice cooked in a light shellfish stock and crispy fried fish. This is a slight variation on the traditional seafood “running” rice using risotto to produce a rich and creamy finish. I didn’t call the dish itself “cockle risotto” as this does not follow the Italian technique for cooking risotto rice. The fried fish used here are small sardines (fishing these is forbidden in most countries) but any kind of small fry should work. The rice can also be served on its own as a main dish.