One of Portugal’s most appetizing fish is the Selene Setapinnis, commonly known as “peixe galo” (rooster fish). In Peniche, fishermen call it “alfaquique.” It is a word with an Arab origin, suggesting that this fish was prized centuries ago.
Peixe galo swims with a serious demeanor near the ocean floor where its colors make it almost invisible. It stays slim on a diet of squid, cuttlefish, and shrimp. Perhaps that is why its meat tastes so good.
Fried peixe galo with an açorda made with its fish eggs is a sumptuous meal, one of the simply extraordinary pleasures of the Portuguese cuisine.
Helena Silva was born and raised in Alcácer do Sal. As a kid, she was fascinated by the history of this ancient city and wanted to become an archeologist to find out more about its past.
Instead, Helena opened a gourmet store called Alkazar (the Arab name for Alcácer do Sal) on the city’s main street, overlooking the Sado river. With the patience of an archeologist, she gathered the best products from the region.
Alcácer is known for the production of salt, pine nuts and rice, so these products have pride of place in Helena’s store. But there are also interesting wines, artisanal honey, appetizing canned fish, regional sweets, and much more.
Our favorite discovery was “pinhoada,” a highly-addictive nougat made with local pine nuts and honey. There’re many good reasons to visit the wonderful town of Alcacer do Sal. But the taste of the pinhoada alone justifies a visit.
Helena Silva’s store, Alkazar Gourmet is located on Rua Machado dos Santos n º4, 7580-162 Alcácer do Sal, Tel. 265088739.
We asked Dália Soromenho, the chef/owner of Porto Santana in Alcácer do Sal, what alchemy made her pork and clams so magical. “I don’t give out my recipes,” she said sternly. “But I have to confess that I taught the recipe to Jamie Oliver when he came to the restaurant,” she continued with pride. “That is like telling everybody!” we argued. Dália relented and shared her recipe with us. So, here it is dear reader, the recipe for the best pork and clams we ever tasted.
Dália Soromenho’s Pork and Clams Recipe
Dália likes to cook this recipe with two cuts of pork: either “pá” (shoulder) of black pork or “cachaço” (neck) of white pork. The quality of the ingredients is essential.
First, marinate the pork cut into cubes with minced garlic and “pimentão,” a paste made of red peppers and salt. Then, slowly simmer the pork in lard until it becomes deliciously tender. The cooked pork can be refrigerated at this point. When you are ready to serve, fry the pork in lard in a frying pan over high heat. Place the clams on top of the pork and cover until the clams open. Cut the potatoes into small pieces and fry them separately. Add the potatoes to the pork-and-clams combination, season with chopped coriander and serve your lucky guests
“You’re welcome to come back to cook the recipe with me,” Dália offered as we said goodbye. We surely will!
Porto Santana is located at Senhora Santana, Alcacer do Sal, tel. 969 020 740.
In 1418, on All Saints’ Day, Portuguese navigators discovered the island of Porto Santo off the coast of Africa. After more exploration, they realized that Porto Santo is part of a lush subtropical archipelago. The largest island in the archipelago was covered by dense forests so the sailors named it “ilha da Madeira,” the wooded island.
Madeira was planted early in the 15th century with vines from many varietals, including verdelho, sercial, and malvasia. The style of wine making evolved until producers learned to make fortified wines that could survive long sea voyages. The fermentation process is interrupted by adding alcohol so that the yeast does not consume all the grape sugar. The wines are then aged for at least a decade in bottles or wood barrels. Madeira producers discovered that the wine stored in barrels that returned from sea voyages in hot climates had improved in quality. So, they started refining some of their wines by exposing them to heat.
In the 17th and 18th century, Madeira wine became a major export. From East to West, aristocrats demanded this wine full of complexity and allure.
Six centuries after Madeira was discovered, we can taste a remarkable vinegar made with Madeira wine by a great olive-oil producer called Gallo. The acidity and sweetness are perfectly balanced to create a seductive vinegar like no other. Try it while you can, for soon gourmets from East to West will demand their salads dressed with this star vinegar.
Candied almonds, which are popular in Portugal during Easter, were used to celebrate weddings in Roman times. Perhaps this Roman custom was inspired by a Greek legend about almonds as a symbol of love. Here’s the story.
Demophon, the king of Athens, visits Thrace where he falls in love with a princess called Phyllis. Demophon sets a day for their wedding and returns to Athens. On the wedding day, Phyllis waits for Demophon at the altar but he fails to arrive. When she dies of heartbreak, the Greek gods take pity and transform her body into an almond tree. Demophon, who had been delayed, arrives in Thrace and learns about the tragic death of his bride. He embraces the almond tree and the branches blossom with beautiful flowers.
There’s a farmer’s market in São Pedro de Sintra since the 12th century. Nowadays it runs every second and fourth Sundays of each month. It is a great place to buy local fruits and vegetables, artisanal sausages, olives and cheese. Wood-fired ovens bake chouriço bread, filing the air with appetizing aromas.
We saw a farmer selling a small capsicum frutescens tree loaded with little red peppers. Five centuries ago, Portuguese navigators brought this plant from South America to Africa, where the Bantu people called its fiery pepper “piri piri.” From Africa, the Portuguese took the plant to India where it changed the course of Indian cuisine.
How could we resist bringing home this symbol of the first age of globalization? “Trim the tree in March and you’ll have piri piri peppers between August to January,” advised the genial farmer. We got into the car feeling ecstatic at this unexpected find. Who knew that happiness is a piri piri tree?
The São Pedro market is located on Largo D. Fernando II, São Pedro de Sintra.
Alcoa, a pastry store in the historical town of Alcobaça, has been producing magical concoctions of flour, sugar and eggs since 1957. They use ancient recipes developed by monks of the order of Cister from two local monasteries, Alcobaça and Santa Maria do Coa.
Alcoa’s pastries have always been revered in the Alcobaça region. But outside the region, only a few knowledgeable gourmets made regular pilgrimages to taste Alcoa’s delights. That all changed when Alcoa started winning top prizes in the annual competition for the best “pastel de nata.” Suddenly, Alcobaça became a destination for dessert lovers.
Neophytes journeyed to Alcoa for the “pastel de nata” only to find a new world of delights with whimsical names and exotic shapes: cornucopias, Saint Peter’s secret, fradinho (little monk), eggs of paradise, and much more. The happiness of Lisbon residents plummeted with the knowledge that these heavenly sweets were 120 km away. Luckily, the owners of Alcoa felt pity for Lisbon’s dwellers and decided to bring their sweet alchemy to Chiado. And now, happiness has returned to the capital city.
The original Alcoa pastry store is on Praça 25 de Abril, 44 in Alcobaça, tel. 262 597 474. The new store in Lisbon is on Rua Garret, 37-39, Chiado, tel 21 1367183.