During the long months of planning before our move to Portugal, one of the things we imagined most often was a simple barbecue of chicken or fish sizzling away on our balcony while we enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening sun.
It’s fair to say that my husband has always been somewhat barbecue obsessed, which means he fits in perfectly in our new country. The smell of sardines cooking on outdoor grills is one that pervades every Portuguese village during the summer months. For those with no outdoor space, a tiny charcoal barbecue on the street by their front doorstep suffices, closely guarded to scare off any semi-stray cats who fancy trying their luck.
Shortly after we arrived here, we purchased a Weber gas barbecue. Though now nearly four years old, it remains one of my husband’s favourite and most used possessions. We also own a cheap coal barbecue, but since the Weber arrived the cheap version has been relegated to slowly and sadly rusting in the corner.
The first barbecue of the year is, for me, a sign that spring is truly underway in Portugal. As the evenings begin to draw out, I potter around the kitchen making side dishes (on this occasion apple coleslaw), while the sound of chicken sizzling away outside brings a smile to my face. Soon, the scent of the tomato/garlic/dark beer glaze (the husband’s own recipe) fills the apartment and I once again get to marvel at the fact that this is now our life.
We’ll have plenty more barbecues over the course of this year, as we do every year here, feasting on grilled meat and fish with accompanying sides made from fresh, local produce. For me, though, the first barbecue after the Weber comes out of its winter hibernation is always one of the most precious.
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We have enjoyed many a bottle of Porta da Ravessa since moving to Portugal. It is reliably tasty and costs less than €2,50. In the summer months, Porta da Ravessa rosé is something that we keep a stock of in the fridge, as it is the perfect accompaniment to those spontaneous barbecues that pop up on warm summer evenings.
Given our fondness for Porta da Ravessa, it is surprising that it has taken us this long to try the Reserva from the same range. At just €3,99 it is still a bargain, so this weekend we trialled it with Sunday dinner.
The results were very positive. A rich, deep and intensely fruity wine, it stood up well to our spiced roast chicken dinner, although being six months pregnant I could only enjoy a sip or two! Full of red fruit flavours and with just the subtlest hint of vanilla, this is a lovely wine for the price and one that we will definitely be drinking again.
For a special occasion, I might be tempted to splash out the extra €2 or so for a bottle of Quinta da Alorna Reserva 2009 instead, but the Porta da Ravessa Reserva is one that is certainly good enough that we will be having it attain with Sunday dinner in the near future.
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I love my kitchen gadgets, and it’s something of a running joke with various family members that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find things I don’t have already.
At Christmas, my mother hit the jackpot, with a new gadget that’s found itself a place on my list of “best gifts ever.” Let me introduce to you the PolyScience Smoking Gun Food Smoker!
We have a bit of a fondness for smoked food, and our relatives in the Portuguese countryside have built various food smokers with good levels of success. However, I’m sure none of them would mind me saying that my new toy beats them all!
The food smoker arrived in Portugal last week. Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring it back from the UK straight after Christmas as we were already at our luggage limit, and I didn’t fancy cramming something gun-shaped into my hand luggage!
We decided to take the Smoking Gun over to our family’s house at the weekend, so that we could all have a play with it together.
The main plan was to do chicken wings and ribs, but we weren’t going to stop there. While the meat was cooking we smoked some olive oil, which was seriously delicious. We were introduced to smoked olive oil in Barcelona last year, and if it’s not something you’ve tried, please trust me when I say it’s something you need in your life.
We then smoked a couple of varieties of cheese, with great success, and my father-in-law blasted some smoke into some bourbon. As a non-whisky drinker, it still wasn’t to my taste, but he seemed delighted with the results.
The “Smoking Gun” is delighfully easy to use. You burn a tiny bit of woodchip in the smoking chamber, switch it on, and blast some smoke into a lidded container using a length of pipe. Generally the food only needs about 30 seconds sitting with the smoke to take on some serious smoke flavour. The best thing of all is that you can add dry herbs for extra flavour, and you really can taste the difference.
You also only need a tiny pinch of woodchips to smoke some food. The tiny pots provided will last us ages, but we are keen to try all the other flavours in the range.
After our small experiments, we moved onto the main event: smoked ribs with BBQ sauce and hickory smoke, and chicken wings with applewood smoke and smokey herbs. It was all just as good as it sounds!
I get through a lot of kitchen gadgets. Some get used once and never again, but I’m pleased to say the Smoking Gun is something I think we will use a lot. It’s so simple to use that adding a smokey flavour takes no more effort than grating a little pile of parmesan, and is therefore something we can do on a whim. I hope our future guests like smoked food, as I think we’re going to be serving a lot of it this year!
CYNICS PLEASE NOTE: The Smoking Gun was a genuine Christmas present, and Food and Wine Portugal wasn’t paid a single penny for this positive review!
You can find the smoking gun on Amazon UK, just use the link below:
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In a lovely break from the frugality of January, a relative treated us to the delights of Portuguese fine dining at the restaurant of the Pousada Palacio de Estoi a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time we had visited Estoi Palace and we were delighted to meander through several richly decorated rooms on the way to the restaurant. From the glimpses of grandeur that we were treated to, this is definitely a building that I would like to return to for a fuller exploration at some point.
On the night we dined at the palace restaurant, there was just one other occupied table, which provided a delightfully exclusive feel to the evening’s proceedings. The menu was varied and included a good range of options for the vegetarian in our party, which is not always a given in Portuguese restaurants. The wine list also presented a good selection.
Before our starters arrived, we were treated to a delicate, bean-based amuse bouche, as well as a selection of freshly baked rolls and garlic-infused olive oil.
Several of us opted for the seafood crepe to start, which was beautifully presented and contained a generous helping of mixed crab, prawns and scallops. Others in our party chose the goat’s cheese gratin, which was delicious and probably the highlight of the starters that we sampled. The clams were also very good, though perhaps a little on the salty side for some tastes.
We tried out a variety of main courses, including the pasta with wild mushroom sauce (simple but very tasty) and the wild boar stew (a hearty dish packed with rich flavours). While the lamb leg was perhaps a little less tender than would have been ideal, the duck supreme with red fruits sauce was delicious and perfectly cooked.
Portions sizes were substantial, meaning that only I (with the excuse of eating for two) ordered a dessert. I’m extremely glad that I did. The fig parfait, which came accompanied by wild fruits sorbet in a caramelised sugar basket, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted – and I’ve eaten an awful lot of puddings over the years!
Another highlight deserving of a mention was the Irish coffee. Though this seemed to cause some confusion initially (the waitress disappeared to check with the chef that it was ok for us to order it), the drink that eventually appeared was so good that it was passed around the table for everyone to try. Even those who weren’t partial to whisky were impressed.
Overall, this was a wonderful meal and somewhere that I would be more than happy to eat again. At around €50 per person, it isn’t one of the area’s cheaper dining options, but it really is excellent value for money considering the standard of the food and the service.
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Traditionally in our household, we follow the extravagance of the Christmas and New Year period with ‘frugal January.’ This is our annual tradition of living on a tight budget throughout the month of January in order to recover from both the expense of Christmas and the richness of the food consumed throughout the festive season.
This year, with a baby on the way, frugal January is particularly important to us. Every penny saved on food shopping (as well as other areas) is another penny that goes towards the expense of parenthood.
Interestingly, we’ve found over the years that living frugally in January sees us eating more fresh food than normal and savouring the tastes of local produce. Whereas other months might see us throw a frozen pizza in the oven for lunch for the sake of convenience while we work, in January the emphasis is on low-cost healthy eating, packed full of fresh ingredients.
So far this month, our cheap Portuguese lunches have included all sorts of delights. Here we pick five of the best to share with you.
Vegetable soup – most supermarkets in Portugal sell vegetable soup packs, consisting of a selection of chopped up vegetables. The one we purchased contained half a cabbage, carrot, leek and a few other goodies. While the resulting soup can be a little bland, we found that adding heaps of chilli flakes gave it a nice kick. As well as eating it on the day it was made, we produced enough to freeze two more lunches worth, making this a true bargain lunch.
Tosta mistas – as Christmas has seen a toasted sandwich maker added to our kitchen appliances, we enjoyed a cheap lunch of tosta mistas (toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, which are available in pretty much every café in Portugal).
Octopus salad – with a tin of octopus in garlic oil and a jar of mixed pickled vegetables already in the store cupboard, all we needed to buy to make this delicious lunch was some fresh coriander and a couple of bread rolls to warm through and eat with it. Octopus salad takes just a few minutes to prepare, as no cooking is required – only chopping. Perfection.
Sardine paste, Portuguese carrots and fresh bread – although properly defined as couvert (the Portuguese pre-starters served at the beginning of a meal), this combination often serves us as one of our favourite cheap and delicious Portuguese lunches. The Portuguese carrots are quick to make and can be prepared the day before.
Hummus – although not precisely a Portuguese food, chick peas are so ridiculously cheap here that we often enjoy homemade hummus for lunch. The chick peas are simply blended with garlic, oil, lemon juice, seasoning and (as tahini can be hard to get hold of) some toasted sesame seeds. We serve it with whatever crunchy vegetables we happen to have in the fridge that can be dipped into it, along with some whole wheat crackers. Tasty and packed full of goodness.
What are your favourite cheap Portuguese lunches? Let us know via the comments box.
Image credit: Flickr
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This year will be our fifth Christmas since moving to Portugal. One of the things we worried about before we moved here was that Christmas would not seem like Christmas without traditional English treats like mince pies and gingerbread men.
It turns out we needn’t have worried. After five years we are still stubbornly clinging to the English elements of our Christmas feasting. Admittedly we do things a little differently now – this year I had to make my own golden syrup before I could bake any gingerbread, having been unable to source any in the local shops. We’ve adapted the Christmas traditions that we grew up with to suit our Portuguese circumstances, including the culinary aspects of those traditions.
But we haven’t just shoe-horned our English traditions into our new country. Instead, we have begun to add Portuguese Christmas treats to our repertoire. Though I’m not confident enough to have a go at baking one just yet, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bolo rei making an appearance. This morning we had it for breakfast with hot chocolate – the perfect way to start a pre-Christmas working week.
It’s strange to think that for our children, bolo rei – a cake packed with dried and crystalized fruit and shaped like a crown – will be an integral part of their Christmas, when we hadn’t even heard of it a few years ago.
Likewise, our coffee table would be incomplete at this time of year without a box of the incredibly cheap and deliciously tasty chocolate truffles that the supermarkets all stock. With chocolate in Portugal usually being quite pricey, we couldn’t believe it the first time we tried these truffles. At under €2 per box and from a variety of brands, they will definitely be a long-term Christmas fixture for us.
It will be fascinating over the years ahead to see how much our festive traditions continue to change. While in countless ways we have been eager to adapt to the Portuguese way of doing things, Christmas is the one real exception, yet it seems that we have already begun to blend the two countries’ traditions. I wonder whether, by the time our children are grown up, our Christmas will have become fully Portuguese, or whether we will still retain some of those English elements.
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There’s no question that food is an important part of life here in the Algarve. Before tourism, the region was largely devoted to fishing and agriculture, with figs, almonds and oranges all grown in abundance. The trees still dominate the inland Algarve today, but in coastal parts many traditional farming and fishing pursuits have given way to the tourism and travel sector.
Food is nevertheless still a key part of what makes the Algarve so unique and fishing and aquaculture remain important activities. Every town has its fish market, with locals bartering over the price of that morning’s catch. The tourists benefit via the thousands of restaurants that are dotted along the coast, offering everything from sea bream cooked on the charcoal grill to dishes of steaming, buttery clams to octopus for the more adventurous foodie.
The Algarve diet was high up on our list of priorities when we moved here. Eating salty sardines hot from the grill and washed down with a glass of cold vinho verde encapsulates the image of Portugal that we kept in mind during the long, dreary London commutes, when living here was still but a dream. We couldn’t wait to sample all of the local olive oils and to try our hand at cooking feijoadas (bean stews), seafood rice dishes and wine-roasted octopus.
The wonderful, fresh local ingredients that we have access to in the Algarve are truly something to be celebrated. I’m not sure there are many things in life as good as juicing sun-warmed oranges straight from the tree, or gorging on sticky figs that are bursting from their skins after the neighbour brings round a basketful. And it seems that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) agrees.
UNESCO has officially recognised the Algarve diet as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity, after a lengthy application process by Tavira Câmara. It’s an honour for the region and a lovely affirmation of the wonderful gastronomic culture that exists here. Part of the recognition relates to the way in which recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, preserving the food traditions that contribute to the Algarve diet. Anyone who has tried a chocolate mousse made from an old Portuguese family recipe will understand just how deserved the UNESCO recognition is!
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V is for Vaca
Vaca is Portuguese for ‘cow,’ which comes in all manner of cuts from the butcher’s counter. One of the most popular ways to serve beef in restaurants is as a fat steak presented with a fried egg on top.
Steak in restaurants can vary considerably in quality, as can steak from the supermarket. The trend of selling aged steak has not caught on in Portugal as it has in the UK, meaning steaks here tend to be less flavourful by comparison. There are still good steaks available (some of the best we have had have been from cattle reared in South America), but finding good steak is a fairly hit and miss process.
Another common use for beef is in hamburgers, which are available in pretty much every high street and shopping centre food court, thanks to Burger Ranch (the Portuguese equivalent of Burger King). Burger Ranch burgers are cooked to order and actually pretty good, so far as fast food goes. The Triplo tends to be the ultimate takeaway Man Vs Food challenge for our guests. With three beef patties, as well as cheese slices and salad, it’s a seriously big burger.
Many food courts also feature a slightly more upmarket burger joint – H3. H3 celebrates the beef patty by serving it in a variety of forms, mostly without bread. From a simple burger with half a lemon slice placed on top, to the complex foie gras, onion confit and port wine reduction offering, the emphasis is on fresh, gourmet-style food, at least so far as is achievable by a takeaway chain!
W is Wine
Wine is an essential item in Portugal. To serve dinner without it would be bordering on unthinkable. The fact that good wine is available from around €1,75 upwards means that wine is an affordable commodity for every family.
Portuguese wine comes in red, white, rosé, green and rosé green forms. Although for many years the quality of Portuguese wine was little known outside of the country’s borders, it is gradually beginning to become increasingly popular overseas.
To summarise Portuguese wine in a couple of paragraphs is impossible, but for our particular recommendations, check out the wine reviews included elsewhere on this blog.
X is for Xerovia
Xerovia (also sometimes spelled cherovia) is Portuguese for ‘parsnips.’ A core part of our winter Sunday roast back in England, parsnips are now an infrequent treat for us. They struggle to grow successfully in the Algarve as they need frost to flourish, so we rely on imports from further north. Supply is unsteady to say the least and, when they do pop up in the supermarkets, parsnips are often past their best.
Christmas dinner in Portugal always involves a dedicated hunt for parsnips. If the local stores aren’t up to the challenge, we head to Iceland, which opened here a couple of years ago and thankfully brought with it a stash of frozen parsnips. For us, Christmas dinner simply wouldn’t be complete without them.
Y is for Yeast
Yeast is an essential ingredient for Portuguese bread and fresh bread is something that the Portuguese do extremely well. It is fair to say that bread has become something of a mild obsession for me since moving here, as this article explains.
If you’re trying your hand at making Portuguese bread, avoid rapid-rise yeast: fresh Portuguese bread needs to rise slowly in order to fully develop its flavour. Avoid adding salt when you first mix the yeast with warm water (you can add the salt later) and make sure that the water is warm rather than hot. Stick with these simple rules and you will be making delicious Portuguese bread in no time.
Z is for Zest
With oranges and lemons growing in abundance in the Algarve, zest is an ingredient that we use frequently when cooking. From savoury dishes to lemon tarts, to super-sweet Portuguese cupcakes with lime and chocolate frosting, zest is an essential ingredient in our kitchen. Three of my favourite zesty recipes since we have lived here include:
The fact that my mother’s orange trees produce more fruit than we can possibly consume every year means that we are constantly finding new ways to use juice and zest in our recipes, so regular readers are sure to see these pop up time and again over the years ahead!
Image credits: Commons Wikimedia
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The happy news that we are expecting our first child has meant some significant changes to our eating (and drinking) habits. I knew that alcohol would be off-limits once I was pregnant and that other foods should be avoided, but I was not quite aware of the extent of the limitations that would be imposed upon my diet!
It is now advised that I should avoid certain foods, including gooey cheese (perhaps the thing I miss the most), rare meat, smoked fish, pâté, raw eggs (no more eating the mix while I bake cakes) and certain kinds of fish. This means that the secreto pork from my favourite takeaway, which is covered in about a bucket’s worth of salt and cooked until just pink in the middle, is off the menu. Sushi is also out, though thankfully the recent discovery of vegetarian sushi has given me some comfort. Steak and lamb have become rather pointless, as it pains me to see them served well done.
After a week or two of bemoaning my restricted diet, I realised that this is an opportunity to make some changes and eat more healthily than I ever have before. The process has reawakened me to the wonderful simplicity that is Portuguese food at its best. Last night we ate plump, tender chicken thighs served on a bed of coriander-infused couscous and locally grown vegetables. The night before, I cooked salmon fillets and served them with brown rice and mango salsa. As a snack, I baked cereal bars, packed full of nuts and dried fruit and sweetened with a little rosemary honey bought from a stall at a local market.
Eating healthily in Portugal is a true pleasure. It’s also extremely cost effective. Our weekly food bills have definitely reduced as our emphasis has shifted to a simpler diet. Of course, the reduced number of bottles of wine in our shopping basket has impacted on that too!
With many staple Portuguese dishes consisting of fish or meat, salad and boiled potatoes, or perhaps in our area coming with an á Algarvia sauce of tomatoes and onions, healthy eating is an easy choice here. Many richer and more complex dishes are of course on offer (I enjoyed a fabulous pork and clams cataplana at Brisa do Rio a week or so ago), which make a wonderful treat, but even those are typically made from locally produced, fresh ingredients. Highly processed foods and ready meals have never caught on in a big way in Portugal.
Although I do lament the lack of beautiful, soft, mould-ripened cheese in my diet, I’ve found that healthy eating in Portugal is easy, cheap and enjoyable. The plethora of local markets and fresh produce really does leave us spoiled for choice when it comes to eating healthily. I’m looking forward to spending the next several months eating for two and feasting on the simple and delicious bounty that Portugal has to offer.
Image credit: Robert Herring
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Friends who have done their homework are always keen to try a pastel de nata (a kind of flaky pastry/egg custard delight) when they first visit us in Portugal. This celebrated national treat has managed to cross international boundaries and is now widely available in England, thanks to the restaurant chain Nando’s. Thus many friends who come to stay with us want to try an authentic Portuguese pastel de nata.
Interestingly though, when it comes to the sweet treat that our guests tend to buy the most of, the treasured pastel de nata has to step aside. Instead, the lesser known chocolate salame wins the day. Granted, it doesn’t have the most appealing name – it conjures up images of some kind of salami and chocolate combination which really doesn’t sound tempting. But get past the name and you will discover one of Portugal’s sweetest delights.
Chocolate salame is so called because of its appearance when sliced. It’s a roll of thick, chocolatey goodness mixed with eggs, sugar and butter, and shot through with pieces of Maria biscuit (similar to Rich Teas) and sprinkled with sugar on top. The result is a delight for the taste buds – very sweet and perfect for a quick snack.
Sold in individual slices and larger bars, chocolate salame is something that I would encourage everyone visiting Portugal to try. Be warned though – you might end up being unable to stop at just one slice…
Image credit: Wikipedia