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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Portuguese Cuisine

Portuguese cuisine has many rich and full-flavored dishes and it is a prime example of a Mediterranean diet. Breakfast in Portugal often consists of fresh bread eaten with butter, cheese or fruit preserves accompanied by strong coffee or milk. Sweet pastries, breakfast cereals, yoghurt or fruit may also be eaten. A large amount of fish and seafood are included in their diet. Fish is served grilled, boiled (including poached and simmered), fried or deep-fried, stewed or even roasted. The type of fish consumed the most in Portugal is bacalhau (salted cod). Cod is almost always used dried and salted since the Portuguese fishing tradition began before refrigeration was invented. The cod needs to be soaked in water or sometimes milk before cooking and simpler fish dishes are often flavored with virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Cod has been fished and traded in Portugal since the 15th century. Also popular are sardines (especially grilled as sardinhas assadas), octopus, squid, cuttlefish, crabs, shrimp and prawns, lobster, spiny lobster and many other crustaceans such as barnacles and goose barnacles, hake, horse mackerel (scad), lamprey, sea bass, scabbard and a great variety of other fish and shellfish and mollusks, such as clams, mussels, oysters, periwinkles and scallops. Caldeirada is a stew consisting of a variety of fish and shellfish with potatoes, tomato and onion. In rural areas sardines used to be preserved in brine until later sardine canneries developed along the Portuguese coast. In Northern Portugal ray fish is dried in the sun. Widely available in Continental Portugal is canned tuna. However fresh tuna is eaten in Madeira, where tuna steaks are an important part of the local cuisine. Canned sardines or tuna are served with boiled potatoes and eggs when there is no time to prepare a more elaborate meal.

On a daily basis eating meat and poultry was historically a privilege of the upper classes. Meat being a staple at a nobleman’s table during the Middle Ages. A Portuguese Renaissance chronicler Garcia de Resende describes how an entrée at a royal banquet was composed of a whole roasted ox garnished with a circle of chickens. During the winter a common Portuguese dish is the cozido a portuguesa (a rich stew made from shin of beef, pork, and, in some regions, chicken served with cabbage, carrots, turnips, Portuguese smoked sausages (morcela, farinheira and chouriço), rice, potatoes, and collard greens).

In the 14th century originated tripas a moda do Porto, tripe with white beans. This was when the Castilians laid siege to Lisbon and blockaded the Tagus entrance. Food prices were astronomical and people were starving. All available meat was sent to the capital while Porto residents were limited to tripe and other organs. Since the 17th century to our day people from Porto have been known as tripe eaters. The Porto region also has a typical sandwich called francesinha (meaning little French girl in Portuguese) it is made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (a form of Portuguese cured pork sausage seasoned with onions, garlic, and paprika.), fresh sausage like chipolata (are normally made from coarse-ground pork seasoned with salt and pepper together with such herbs — according to the particular recipe — as sage, thyme, pimento, and/or nutmeg), steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce.

Other meat dishes included in Portuguese cuisine are Alcatra (beef marinated in red wine and garlic then roasted. It is traditional of Terceira Island in the Azores. Alcatra is an Arabic word which means piece or bit and refers only to a certain expensive meat cut in continental Portugal. Carne de porco a alentejana is a dish made of fried pork with clams. Alentejo is a vast, agricultural province, with only one sizable fishing port Sines. All points in Algarve are relatively close to the coast and pigs used to be fed with fish. Therefore clams were added to the fried pork to disguise the fishy taste of the meat.

Legend says that the dish was developed to test Jewish converts new Christian faith; consisting of pork and shellfish which are two non-kosher items. Portuguese steak, bife, is a slice of fired beef or pork in wine based sauce with fried potatoes, fried rice or salad. An egg sunny side up may be placed on top of the meat which then gives the dish a new name bife com um ovo a cavalo (steak with an egg on horseback). In old Lisbon taverns iscas, fried liver, was a favorite request. Popular snacks are pregos or bifanas small beef or pork steaks in a roll often served in beer halls with a mug of beer. Espetada, a sort of kebab (large chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf stick with vegetables such as onions and bell peppers and left to grill over smouldering wood chips) is very popular in Madeira.

There is an interesting story behind alheira (Portuguese sausage made with many meats other than pork, usually veal, duck, chicken or rabbit, and bread.). It is a yellowish sausage from Tras-os-Montes served with fried potatoes and a fried egg. In the late 15th century King Manuel of Portugal ordered all Jewish residents to convert to Christianity or leave the country. The King did not really want to expel the Jews, who constituted the economic and professional elite of the kingdom but was being forced to do so by outside pressure. When the deadline date arrived he announced that no ships were available for those who refused to convert – the vast majority- and dragged men, women and children to churches for a forced mass baptism. There were Jews who maintained their religion secretly. Since avoiding pork was a way to tell if one maintained Jewish practices converts devised a type of sausage that would give the appearance of being made with pork. Nowadays pork has been added to the alheiras.

Jewish influence may have determined some other practices in food preparation and eating habits. Different kinds of unleavened bread and cakes, such as arrufadas de Coimbra are baked throughout Continental Portugal and the Azores. In the islands, meat is repeatedly rinsed in water to clean any trace of blood. When chickens are killed, they can be hung upside down so that the blood may be drained. The blood may later be used for cabidela (rice cooked together with the meat and the blood of the animal, which imparts a greyish-brown color to the dish). Poultry raised at a peasant’s home was considered quality food. Turkeys were only eaten for Christmas or special occasions such as weddings or banquets. Till the 1930s at Christmas farmers from the outskirts of Lisbon would bring herds of turkeys to the city streets for sale. Before being killed a stiff dose of brandy was forced down the birds’ throats to make the meat more tender and tasty. Poor people ate chicken almost only when they were sick. Now these meats are available to all classes. Bifes de Peru, turkey steaks, became a recent addition to Portuguese tables.

There is a great variety of Portuguese cheeses, made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, or both together. In the Azores, there’s a type of cheese made from cow’s milk which is spicy Queijo de Sao Jorge. Since traditional Portuguese cuisine does not include cheese in recipes cheese is eaten by itself before or after the main dishes. Other well known cheeses are Queijo de Castelo Branco and Queijo da Serra da Estrela. Popular vegetables are tomatoes, cabbage and onions. There are dishes like feijoada (a stew of beans with beef and pork meats) which is a typical Portuguese dish and acorda (composed of mashed bread with garlic, coriander, olive oil, water, salt and eggs).. It is traditional from the Alentejo region. Salads are usually made with tomatoes, lettuce and onion flavored with olive oil and vinegar. Potatoes are very common and rice is used more than in any other European cuisine. One of the most popular soups made with vegetables is caldo verde. The basic ingredients are mashed potatoes, mashed onions and minced collard greens, savoy cabbage, or kale. Common flavoring ingredients are garlic and salt. Before serving, slices of chouriço (pork sausage ) are also often added as well as olive oil. It is usually accompanied by slices of Portuguese broa bread on the side.

The traditional Portuguese drink is wine (red, white and green). Vinho Verde or green wine, is a specific kind of wine, which can be red, white or rose and is only produced in the northwest Minho province. „Green wine" refers to the fact that the wine must be drunk „young". These are usually slightly sparkling. Port wine is a fortified wine produced in Douro and is normally served with desserts. Typical liquers such as Licor Beirao and Ginjinha (a liqueur made by fermenting ginja berry (similar to cherry) in brandy.) are very popular alcoholic beverages in Portugal.

Portuguese Pork Alentejana
• 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 pounds pork loin, cut into 1 inch cubes
• 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
• 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
• 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
• 2 tomatoes - peeled, seeded and chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 24 small clams in shell, scrubbed
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. In large bowl, combine wine, paprika, salt and pepper, blend well. Add garlic cloves, bay leaf, and cubed meat, turn meat in marinade to coat pieces. Marinate for 6 hours, turning occasionally.
2. Drain pork; reserve marinade. Pat cubes completely dry. Discard garlic and bay leaf. Melt 1 teaspoon of oil in large skillet. Add pork cubes, stirring frequently so that the meat colors quickly and evenly. Transfer with slotted spoon to a bowl.
3. Pour reserved marinade into skillet and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping off any brown particles clinging to the inside of pan. Boil briskly uncovered until marinade is reduced to 1 cup. Pour over pork and set aside.
4. In 6 to 8 quart pan, heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil; add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until onion is soft but not brown. Add garlic, tomatoes and crushed red pepper. Simmer, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.
5. Spread the clams, hinged side down, over the tomato sauce; cover the pan tightly and cook over medium to high heat for ten minutes or until clams open. Stir in reserved pork and juices. Simmer for 5 minutes to heat thoroughly. Sprinkle with parsley. By Rasma Raisters

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