portuguese

Bacalhau à Brás is a Portuguese dish using salted cod (bacalhau), eggs, and potatoes. The Portuguese were one of the first European cultures to fish for cod, making huge harvests and preserving the fish off the coast of Newfoundland shortly after Columbus discovered the New World. Since then, this salted cod has been an integral part of Portuguese culture, and it’s often said that you can cook a new recipe using bacalhau every day of the year (some say there are over 1,000 recipes that include this fish). Advances in fishing technology in the mid 20th century had collapsed the Northwest Atlantic cod market by the 1990s – cod takes a long time to mature, and overfishing had run rampant. Today, bacalhau is most often made using cod harvested from Arctic waters under more strict quotas.

Bacalhau is made by salting and drying the fish in the sun; while it was originally a method of preservation (salted cod keeps a long time even without refrigeration), its unique, strong flavor is unmistakable and delicious, and its popularity endures today. The only downside to eating bacalhau is that it requires a bit of foresight, since it needs to be soaked overnight to reconstitute the fish.

Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most famous Portuguese dishes, and is considered the ultimate comfort meal in Portugal. The dish uses many of the quintessential ingredients found in Portuguese cooking – bacalhau, eggs, potatoes, and black olives.

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Carne de Porco à Alentejana is a traditional recipe from Portugal, made from a combination of pork, wine, paprika, clams, and black olives, and typically served with roasted or fried potatoes. When a reader first suggested I tackle this dish, I was floored by the seemingly odd ingredients list; but much like Chicken Marbella, the offbeat ingredients mixed together perfectly to create a unique taste that’s more than the sum of its parts.

While the name might lead you to believe that this dish originated in the Alentejo region of Portugal, it’s actually from Algarve (the Southernmost point of the country). Legend has it that chefs in Algarve gave the dish this name to let diners know that the pork was from Alentejo-raised pigs, who were fed acorns and had a flavorful meat. At the time, pigs in Algarve were fed fish scraps from the burgeoning canning industry, and was not considered very tasty. Some argue that the addition of clams to the dish was a way of masking any “fishy” tasting pork.

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A few weeks ago, a reader suggested I try my hand at Caldo Verde (“green broth”), a traditional Portuguese soup that is often considered their national dish. It was the perfect recommendation – the soup’s use of simple, satisfying ingredients, plus the addition of slightly-spicy sausage, make it an ideal late spring / early summer meal.

Initially, the soup’s use of kale might seem out of place for a country that is geographically closer to Africa than the rest of Europe. But when you take into context the fact that the soup originates from Portugal’s northern Minho region, which was once under Roman and Celtic occupation and still retains some of that influence today, the culinary presence of a hearty cabbage like collard greens (or kale like in this recipe) makes sense. One of my favorite aspects of this dish is that it’s a perfect pauper’s meal: combine some very basic and always-available ingredients (water, onion, potatoes, cabbage) and add other items if and when they are available (broth, sausage).

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