It’s been far too long since we posted a Portuguese wine review here on Food and Wine Portugal. It turns out you just don’t drink nearly as much of it when you have a new baby!
Still, the other day we enjoyed a particularly fine bargain bottle that I thought worth bringing to your attention.
There’s a small story behind it, in that we bought it in Apolonia, the Algarve’s gourmet supermarket where you can get pretty much anything your heart desires – at a price! We wrote about it here, and thoroughly enjoy a wander around, although filling a trolley is something we can only do when we’re having a particularly “flush” month – which is not something we’ve had for a while!
As you can see from the picture below, the sky’s the limit when it comes to wine in Apolonia, but I’m pleased to tell you that the wine we’re writing about here costs almost exactly 0.1% of the cost of a bottle of Petrus 2008. Sure, I’d love to try the latter, but it turned out there was nobody on hand who wanted to buy the car.
We often choose unknown wine based on the medal stickers. Generally, if a wine has won a medal in an international competition, it’s a pretty fair bet that it will be drinkable. However, you do have to be a little careful of this in Portugal, as close examination of the label can sometimes reveal the medal actually represents it being something along the lines of the “third best wine in a small town that probably only produces three different wines.”
The sticker on the Loios bottle is one of these more spurious ones—an “approved flavour of the year,” whatever that may mean, but we had a go anyway, and were glad we did.
With so many Portuguese wines based on local speciality grapes, it can sometimes be hard to know what to expect from a wine based on knowledge gained elsewhere in the world. Over time, you find wines that substitute your Sauvignon Blanc or your Merlot. Well, with Loios, we’ve found our substitute Beaujolais Villages.
This red is a “glugger,” no doubt about it, and slips down the throat with little encouragement! It’s light and fruity—something of a “beginners red,” but none the worse for it. It would be (in my opinion) a good choice to go with white meat where a stronger red could overpower the flavour. In fact, it could be my “go to” bottle for Christmas. It’s a bit late for summer drinking at the time of writing, but it would fit the bill as a barbecue red nicely too.
When we drank it, it accompanied something known affectionately in our house as “poverty pasta.” This is basically a large pasta bake containing everything that needs using up, and lasts for lunch the following day. This particular “poverty pasta” was based around vegetables and tuna, and the Loios complemented it beautifully.
I thoroughly recommend this Portuguese red, and it’s certainly one I will be buying again. After all, I can buy just over a thousand bottles for the price of just one bottle of that Petrus 2008! I won’t be needing that many, but I do really need to keep my car as well.
I’m perfectly happy with that compromise.
Interested in Portuguese wine? We thoroughly recommend this book:
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OK, I concede it would be fair to ask why a food blog is writing about a ready meal, but allow me to justify myself:
We currently have a 4.5-month-old baby, and are in the middle of moving house. Also, because my wife is breastfeeding said baby, she’s not allowed shellfish, and I’m very much missing the presence of prawns on the table at least a couple of times a week.
This perfect storm of circumstance has led me to seek solace in the every-increasing selection of ready-meals in our local Continente supermarket, and I’ve started eating their prawn feijoada once a week for lunch.
Feijoada is a bean stew, and I’m not going to try to say whether it originates in Portugal or Brazil, as doing so always seems to incite a fierce debate. It’s often made with dark beans and meat, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the prawn variation after first trying it at a seaside restaurant in Manta Rota some years ago.
The Continente version isn’t massively exciting, but it is satisfying. It’s a bit of a cheat to call it “prawn” when the fish within is actually a mixture of tiddly prawns and surimi (basically crabsticks). It’s also a little bland, but perks up immeasurably with a sprinkling of fresh coriander and some generous seasoning.
Best of all, given our current hectic life, it’s ready in under five minutes, accompanied with some equally lazy microwave rice.
Ready meals are still very new in Portugal. In our local supermarket, they share a small eight-foot section with ready-made soups and pastry. I’d hate to see them emerge to the extent that they have in the UK, as I’d rather have aisles of fresh ingredients to work with. However, sometimes you need something quick and easy, and this allows me to eat a few prawns each week without provoking jealousy in my wife.
In order to restore my credibility after this admission, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that we’ve already posted a recipe for home-made feijoada here on the blog!
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This recipe is my own, but it’s something that was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine from years gone by.
I’ve made it a couple of times recently, in honour of my long-anticipated new Portuguese bowl, which I talk about in this article.
I’ve put “Portuguese” in inverted commas in the title, because there’s nothing inherently Portuguese about the recipe really, but it’s a meal I’ll always associate with the first of the warm Algarve summer evenings.
What I love about this recipe is that there’s nothing precise about it. Just like my spatchcock chicken, I tend to vary it a little each time. As such, you won’t find exact ingredient quantities, which I think makes it lots of fun to make – and to adapt to smaller or larger groups.
I also love the fact that it makes a centrepiece out of something as simple as tomatoes. The things you serve with it turn it into a full meal, but the tomatoes are really what it’s all about. It also showcases other local ingredients, such as rich Portuguese olive oil and sea salt from the salinas just down the road from us.
- Tomatoes (at least three different kinds), cut randomly and rustically! Although finding different coloured tomatoes makes it more interesting aesthetically, it tastes just as good with three different types of red tomatoes. A couple of weeks ago, I used a mixture of huge Portuguese beef tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes from Spain, and vine tomatoes from the local “corner shop.”
- One small red onion, finely chopped.
- A handful of fresh summer herbs (Recently, I’ve used oregano, basil and mint – use what you like, but the mint is a MUST!)
- A generous grinding of rock salt and fresh black pepper.
- A good dollop of your most fancy olive oil. (Recently we’ve used a “first pressing” Portuguese oil from Gallo, plus a smaller glug of Chilli Boy’s chilli oil).
- A generous splash of red wine vinegar or fruit vinegar.
- A pinch of sugar.
Take the tomatoes out of the fridge at least an hour before making (or ideally don’t store them in the fridge at all!)
Mix all the ingredients above in a bowl, and then leave them to settle at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Serve (ideally outside) with a strong goat’s cheese, slices of cured meat, and crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices. As you will see from the image below, we were lazy last time and used some pre-packed garlic toasts from a shopping trip to Spain instead.
This meal really is a case of “less is more.” It takes no more than ten minutes of effort, but looks really impressive on the table. An accompanying bottle of red wine is essential!
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A while ago, we wrote about local food producer Chilli Boy, and specifically their Spicy Olives, which we took a serious shine to.
Having had a little more time to try their other products, here are our thoughts on some others – specifically their chilli oils, chilli paste, and piri piri powder.
Chilli Boy do two different chilli oils, called “spicy” and “hot and spicy.” For the purposes of this review I’ll refer to them as “quite hardcore” and “really hardcore.”
Joking aside, they’ve both found plenty of valuable uses in our kitchen, but you can tell from the liquid levels in the photo above that the really hot one only needs using sparingly (and that’s coming from someone who really does like things hot).
Our usual use for the hot one is with piri piri chicken, or with salmon steaks (if you’ve not dipped fresh salmon in hot sauce, then trust me when I say you’re missing out).
The lighter oil, marketed as a salad and dipping oil, is perfect for the intended purposes, and has a very different and far more subtle flavour. It’s still hot, however! We’ve been using it to douse vegetables before roasting or char-grilling them, with good results.
Chilli Boy’s chilli paste is the product we’ve played around with least so far, but it has serious potential. If you’re looking for something seriously spicy, then look no further.
My first experiment with it was to fold a generous helping into my usual home made barbecue sauce. Well, let me tell you those ribs were HOT! Since then, I’ve used it a little more sparingly, most commonly mixed with butter, salt and pepper to make spicy sweet potato mash, something of a weeknight staple in this house.
Piri Piri Powder
Surprisingly, the Chilli Boy product that’s made the biggest impression on us so far (except perhaps the Spicy Olives), has been the piri-piri powder.
I use chilli powder to perk up many things, including sauces and roasted vegetables, but I usually find that after a couple of weeks it loses its aroma. The same applies to lots of dry spices. In fact, if you were to make me “blind smell” my cayenne, my usual chilli powder and my hot paprika, I’d probably struggle to tell you which is which.
Not so with this piri-piri powder. I don’t know if it’s thanks to the (rather attractive) mini kilner jar, but this stuff has fruity flavour and makes food taste hot and interesting rather than just hot.
It’s easy to overdo it, as I confirmed with some lime and chilli butter that nearly blew my head off, but once you get an idea of quantity it really is the perfect condiment.
You can find Chilli Boy products in artisan food shops in the Algarve and on their website. As previously stated, we were provided with free samples, but we have strict principles at Food and Wine Portugal and wouldn’t dish out “sponsored praise.” The ultimate proof of that is that we use all of these products every single week – and we’ll soon have to go and stock up on some more
ONE OTHER THING: Our “Moving to Portugal” book is currently on promotion on Kindle, for one week only at a bargain price. If you’ve yet to grab a copy, now is the perfect time!
UK Readers will find the book here:
US Readers will find the book here:
Finally, if you’re an artisan food producer in Portugal, and you’d like us to review your products, do not hesitate to contact us.
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I had a day to myself in Lisbon a couple of weeks ago (you can find a write-up of my trip here).
Although I’d been to Lisbon several times before, I’d never visited the main food market, the Mercado da Ribeira, so I took the metro to Cais do Sodré to have a look around.
It may be that I got there a little late, but I wasn’t enormously impressed with the market itself. Although it was large and bustling, I didn’t really see anything that I wouldn’t easily find at the large municipal market we’re lucky to have in our local town of Tavira.
However, half of the market hall has recently been turned into a huge dining area, with the walls lined with “pop up” style petiscos outlets, some of which are essentially branches of well-known Lisbon restaurants. For those that don’t know, petiscos basically means “snacks” – the Portuguese take on Spanish tapas.
The area was busy, but not busy to the point that it was stressful to find somewhere to eat on the large bench tables. What WAS a problem was deciding WHAT to eat, and trust me when I say I’d happily go here every day for a month and sample everything on offer.
I saw gourmet ice cream and gourmet burgers (the stalls for both of which were the only ones with significant queues); I saw shellfish specialists, places selling mouth-watering pizzas, and many concentrating on just one or two gourmet dishes.
I chose a place selling mini sandwiches, along the lines of Spanish montaditos. I chose it as I could have three different things, all made with local seafood.
My sandwiches all used fresh, soft local bread. The first was filled with tiny escabeche fish and pickled shallots; the second featured smoked salmon and homemade chutney. The third was the highlight, however, filled with sparkling fresh sardine fillet that may well be one of the finest things I’ve ever tasted.
Added together, the three made a perfect lunch, accompanied with an interestingly dressed green salad with tons of mint, and a homemade ice tea.
Perfect though my lunch was, I was hungry for more, so my stroll around the rest of the market was inevitably going to end in a visit to an additional eatery. I chose the modern Sea Me, something of a Lisbon institution, from what I’m told.
My initial desire for prawns with almonds was denied due to a lack of stock, so I settled on tuna “bomboms” – delicately deep-fried balls of fresh tuna with a light, sweet chilli batter sprinkled with poppy seeds. Portuguese / Thai fusion was a new thing to me, but it worked surprisingly well, especially washed down with a ice-cold Super Bock.
Sadly a lack of appetite precluded me from eating anything more on the day, but I’ll certainly be making a bee-line for the Time Out section of the Mercado da Ribeira when I’m next in Lisbon. I strongly recommend that you do the same!
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Last week, we took a trip to Lisbon—you’ll find a full trip report here. On our first night, we decided not to venture far, and visited a steakhouse restaurant called Hippopotamus, which was connected to our hotel, the Tivoli Oriente.
Hippopotamus is actually a French chain restaurant, but the one we visited is the only one in Portugal. It’s all about the meat, and specialises in steak.
First impressions were good, with friendly service and plenty done to accommodate our sleepy three-month-old son (including a free balloon tied to his stroller).
The menu reminded us of America, and its chain diners such as Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster, with lots of big pictures and plenty to choose from.
Our eyes were immediately drawn to a sirloin steak special, intended for two or three people. It was a little extravagant, but we’d been gifted a free bottle of wine by the hotel’s loyalty scheme so we decided to go for it.
Starters were pleasant enough, if not mind-blowing, but were sensibly light. My prawn, guacamole and tomato “tartare” was more of a palate-cleanser than an exciting experience, but this made sense given the planned meat overload.
When our steak arrived, complete with six sauces and unlimited sides, we were not disappointed (we were slightly overwhelmed by the task ahead, however). The steak was perfectly cooked and very tasty, a welcome relief in a country where steak is often a disappointment.
The sides were decent enough and included creamed spinach, green beans (which passed my “no squeak” test) and a decent dauphinoise. I would have liked to see some corn or mushrooms on offer, but this is a little pedantic.
We shared a dessert platter including a decent chocolate mousse and a good crème brulee.
You may have noticed I’ve used the word “decent” a couple of times. This sums up Hippopotamus quite accurately. Nothing about it was exceptional, but we thoroughly enjoyed an American-style dining experience in Portugal, and the meat, which is what the restaurant is all about, lived up to its promise.
We went to “Hippo” out of convenience, but I suspect that at some point in the future we’ll go back out of choice. For a restaurant attached to a hotel, that is praise indeed.
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It’s been a long time since we previously produced a review of O Pedro in Cabanas. I looked back at the old review and found that the Cabanas boardwalk hadn’t even been completed at the time, so we must be talking about three years or more.
We hadn’t visited since. Looking back at the review I’m not really sure why, as we’d been largely impressed with the meal, barring some disappointing squid.
We visited on a Saturday night in the middle of August, and the little town of Cabanas was absolute bedlam. There were queues at all of the restaurants and our requests for a table for two plus a baby were met with attitudes from amusement to arrogance, leaving us wondering why, as knowledgeable locals, we had been so naïve as to even bother trying to eat out in August.
We were on our way back to the car, defeated, when we spotted the vacant table outside O Pedro, and confess we may have pulled the “but we live here” card in order to secure it.
Anyway, table secured, everything flowed like clockwork. Bread and olives appeared, drinks orders were taken, and the service was so swift we actually had to request an extra couple of minutes to decide.
The food was great – in fact far more “stand out” than we remembered from our previous visit. I had a prawn and pork kebab that was succulent and tasty, with the slices of pepper and onion having soaked up all the delicious juices. My wife had a “house steak” – not the finest cut in the world, but cooked just as requested, surrounded with potatoes and sauce, and topped with a fried egg.
Desserts were very good indeed, with the chocolate mousse being particularly notable.
The best surprise of all came when the bill arrived – less than €40, including coffees, a large beer, water, and a couple of glasses of wine. We were particularly impressed with the low price of the “add-ons” – coffees for 70 cents and just €2.20 for the huge beer. Restaurants have a real opportunity to “nickel and dime” the tourists on these things, and these fair prices show real integrity.
O Pedro did much to win our loyalty that night. The food was sufficiently good to make us want to work our way through the menu, the pricing was outstanding, and most of all the staff actually worked to accommodate us on such a busy night. We will be back.
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We’re always keen to support local artisan food producers here at Food and Wine Portugal. When I recently posted an article about piri-piri chicken, somebody asked in the comments if we’d heard of a local producer called Chilli Boy, based just down the road.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my wife had arranged to meet the people behind Chilli Boy, who produce a range of exciting chilli-based products from local ingredients.
As a rule, the Portuguese don’t really “do” hot and spicy, so when my wife returned with a bag full of hot treats I was excited, to say the least.
We’ve not yet had a chance to try all of the products, although we are doing our best. However, I like Chilli Boy’s Pickled Chilli Olives so much that I thought they deserved a post of their own.
I should make clear at this point that our praise cannot be bought, as you’ll see from some of our honest restaurant reviews. On that basis, believe me when I tell you that these olives are now something I never want to be without.
They ARE hot, but not too hot. They taste of pickles, but somehow are not too “pickly.” Interestingly, they taste fresh and fruity, and somehow not that much like olives, making them a great thing to give to guests who’ve yet to make that essential love / hate decision on the whole subject of olives…
They’re just really….interesting. The kind of food you want to talk about, and say “you have to try these!”
And that’s probably the best way to leave my quick review…you have to try these.
You’ll find Chilli Boy products on sale around the Tavira area and on their website. We have others to work through (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!) so expect to hear more on this blog soon.
DISCLAIMER: While we were given Chilli Boy samples free of charge, we would never sacrifice the integrity of this blog by bending the truth. All opinions are our own!
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(Lou) While preparing dinner last night, I casually picked a few grass stems out of my bunch of coriander before using it. I dropped them into the bin, then paused, reflecting on how incensed I would have been in England to find my herbs thus contaminated. Here, I’ve got used to just picking out the bits that aren’t supposed to be there.
I began pondering other food matters that now seem completely normal – along with a few that I think I will never adapt to.
Four things that now seem completely normal
1. Seeing whole rabbits, pigs’ ears and tongues and rows of tiny quails as standard items on the butcher’s counter – I used to find the pigs’ tongues in particular pretty grim, but now I scan the entire contents of the butcher’s counter without giving them a second thought.
2. Getting change from a €5 note when buying a round of beers for myself and three friends – this is a pleasure that I quickly adapted to!
3. Sucking the heads of prawns in order to enjoy the sauce they come in at its best – something I never would have contemplated doing when living in England.
4. Cakes that include custard – instead of fresh cream cakes and cakes with jam, Portuguese cakes tend to contain a gooey, delicious yellow custard. I’ve grown so used to them that when my dad asked recently if there were any jam cakes in the selection at a local café, all I could do was look blank. Clearly the joys of jam tarts and jam doughnuts, despite these being my cakes of choice back in England, had been long forgotten.
Four things that will never seem normal
1. Buying supermarket chicken in hugely inflated packaging – having been raised in a country with food safety guidance that says to avoid any meat in inflated packaging as it’s starting to go bad, being faced with a choice of 15 kinds of pre-packed chicken in the supermarket, all of it in packets that look about to explode, will never seem right.
2. Being served a main course in a restaurant without a single vegetable in sight – I’ve been particularly conscious of this over recent months, thanks to my quest to eat extra fruit and veg while pregnant. It doesn’t happen in all restaurants, but there are still many traditional Portuguese eateries where vegetables are restricted to the soup starter.
3. Eating sardine bones – despite my best efforts, eating sardines is still something of a trial for me, despite their incredible flavour. I sit meticulously picking out even the tiniest, hair-like bones while my husband, who has adapted far better than me, races through a plateful in the time it takes me to eat one.
4. Paying a small fortune for asparagus from Peru, in the supermarket here in the Algarve, while central Portugal is awash with roadside sellers of beautifully fresh, locally grown asparagus, which for some reason never seems to make it to the Algarve.
What else do you find strange (or not) about adapting to living in Portugal, so far as the cuisine is concerned? Leave a comment and let us know
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Back in the UK, our barbecues were distinctly British. At every one we’d feel the need to cook a bit of everything, and quantity over quality often ruled the day. This is understandable in a country where the climate makes the “BBQ season” rather short – you really feel you have to make the best of it.
Here in Portugal, cooking outside is a far more frequent occurrence, and although we still sometimes fall into the trap of cooking far too much, it always seems that we enjoy the “less is more” barbecues the most of all.
As such, we now frequently have barbecues with just one meat or fish centrepiece, and a couple of side dishes. Favourites include a butterflied leg of lamb or large, juicy stuffed fish, but the thing we return to again and again is spatchcock piri-piri chicken.
The recipe that follows is pretty much my own creation, and I’m rather proud of it. It’s one of those fun recipes that you can play around with a bit each time. It’s also really enjoyable and easy to cook, provided you are comfortable with your grill (which I will come to in a moment).
In terms of sides, it goes with anything. Last night, we had a simple green salad and some new potatoes with crème fraiche and chives, but it’s just as good with wedges, chargrilled veg, cous cous, rice, or any combination thereof.
As mentioned above, you need to be comfortable with your grill to make this chicken successfully. That’s because you are cooking the chicken from raw, and it’s easy to ruin it (or poison everyone) if you can’t control the heat. Even though I’ve cooked this dozens of times, I’d be very reluctant to do so on a coal barbecue. I use a gas Weber, which I adore, as it’s almost as controllable as a hob ring in terms of heat (see the end of the post for details). I’m sure a charcoal grill “ninja” could nail this with a mixture of direct and indirect heat, but my skills aren’t quite there yet.
This is all you need for this recipe, which I think makes the most succulent barbecue chicken you could wish for:
- 1 x Fresh chicken, spatchcocked. (We are lucky enough to have these pre-prepared in Portugal, but you could ask your butcher or do it yourself – you’ll find plenty of instructional videos on YouTube).
- 1 x 330ml bottle of beer – anything will do, from lager to ale (not stout). I tend to go for a darker beer these days.
- 50mls olive oil.
- Hot sauce – note that I don’t mention a quantity or type. This is very flexible, and I’ve used everything from Portuguese piri piri to Mexican jalapeno sauce. I use loads, and you shouldn’t be scared to do so, even if you don’t like heat, as most of the spice burns away anyway. You can always serve the chicken with extra hot sauce if need be.
- Sea salt and ground pepper.
- Herbs and spices (optional).
1. Heat the BBQ to hot. Meanwhile, in a jug, mix the beer with the olive oil, hot sauce and seasoning. Sometimes I add herbs and spices too at this point, and I’ve used everything from mixed herbs to cayenne, smoked paprika and garlic powder—it’s all optional, but fun to play around with.
2. Brush some of the marinade over the chicken and toss it on the BBQ. Brush the other side, and turn it over after a couple of minutes. The idea is to sear the chicken on both sides while the grill is hot.
3. Reduce the heat to medium/low, and continue to turn the chicken every 5 mins or so. Brush loads of the marinade over each side of the chicken between turns. The idea is to “feed” as much of the beer baste into the meat as you can during cooking. I always try to use every bit, but am usually left with a little by the time the chicken is cooked.
4. Usually the chicken will take 45 mins to one hour to cook. Thanks to the continual basting, it will remain succulent and juicy. I like to use a meat thermometer to check it’s cooked through.
5. Cover the chicken in foil for ten minutes, and then serve with your chosen side dishes and a squeeze of lemon. Be ready to fight over the crispy, spicy skin.
This BBQ chicken is so simple, but wonderfully effective. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. One chicken usually feeds two with plenty of leftovers. If you have guests, it’s probably best to do a couple if the chicken is to be the centrepiece of your barbecue.
You will find the grill we use via the link below. It is no small investment, but it’s lasted for years of heavy use and I would recommend it highly if you want to cook reliably outside.