The Joy of Codfish on Christmas Eve

Bacalhau 2019

The Vikings used to dry codfish to take on their sea voyages. The Basques improved upon this practice by salting the fish before drying it. But it was the Portuguese who recognized codfish’s culinary potential. Auguste Escoffier, the chef who helped codify French cuisine in the beginning of the 20th century, wrote that “We must recognize that the Portuguese were the first to introduce in our eating habits, this precious fish, universally known and appreciated.”

Today, on Christmas Eve, codfish is enjoyed all over Portugal. It is usually simply prepared. After being soaked for two or three days to remove most of the salt, the fish is boiled. It is accompanied by Portuguese cabbage and potatoes that are also boiled. Everything is generously dressed with olive oil and garlic that transform this simple meal into culinary joy.

Pristine fish at Taberna do Valentim

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We met Valentim, the chef and owner of Taberna Valentim in Viana do Castelo, as soon as we entered the restaurant. He was working hard at the grill but took time to show us the superb mullets that had just been delivered. “The seas are often rough during Winter so at times we have to close the restaurant because we can’t find fresh fish of the quality we seek. These mullets came from Póvoa do Varzim. The sea was rough yet the fishermen still went out. Their fish is gorgeous but the they take too much risk to catch it.”

Taberna do Valentim has offered the same small menu for 40 years: pristine seasonal fish perfectly grilled, fish rice, “ensopado de peixe,” a fish stew prepared with white pepper and served on bread toasts, and caldeirada (bouillabaisse). The quality is high and prices are modest so the place is always packed.

After a very satisfying lunch, we resumed our conversation with Valentim.  “I started working when I was 8, serving glasses of wine and codfish cakes in my mother’s tavern,” he told us. “Then, I began to cook, so I’ve been cooking for a long time. But time is not what’s important. Passion is. Unless you have passion for what you do you’ll never be great at it.” This passion is evident in everything that comes to the table at Taberna Valentim.

Taberna Valentim is located at Avenida Campo do Castelo nº45 in Viana do Castelo, tel. 258-827-505.

Prado: the prairie in Lisbon

Prado Composit

Never underestimate the power of the light of Lisbon. Chef António Galapito was happily working at Nuno Mendes’ Taberna do Mercado in London when he was offered the opportunity to open a restaurant in Lisbon. Galapito said he was not interested. But he agreed to see the space.

It is a place full of memories, from Roman ruins to old fish-canning equipment from a factory that once operated there. The ceilings are high, making room for generous windows that invite the light in. It was impossible for Galapito to say no. He called the restaurant Prado, the Portuguese word for prairie, to signal his intention of bringing the best products from the fields of Portugal to his table.

The light became the inspiration for the menu. The food is simple, fresh, organic and seasonal. The wines are natural and biodynamic. The vibe is relaxed and the decoration minimalist.

We sat at a beautiful common table made from old pine wood. Our dinner started with a refreshing strawberry kombucha. Then, a plate of bread and goat cheese arrived at the table. The bread, fermented for 28 hours at Gleba, fused with the flavorful goat cheese and melted in our mouth.

The menu has many small plates that are perfect for sharing. We sampled several of these delights:  mussels, leeks, parsley and fried bread, cabbage cooked with sour milk and sunflower seeds, pleurotus mushrooms, with pimentão (a traditional pepper-based paste) and crunchy sarraceno wheat, green asparagus, requeijão and azedas, mackerel, mizuna, lettuce and tangerine, and finally, squid from Azores cooked in a pork broth.

Dinning at Prado is a wonderful opportunity to taste pristine produce harmoniously combined to create satisfaction and joy.

Prado is located at Travessa das Pedras Negras, 2, tel. 210 534 649, email info@pradorestaurante.com. Click here for the restaurant’s website. 

The abbot’s pudding

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One of the most original Portuguese recipes is a pudding created in the 19th century by the priest of Priscos, a small parish near Braga. He was called Manuel Rebelo but became known as the Abade de Priscos (Prisco’s abbot). His fame as a cook and gourmet earned him the invitation to prepare banquets for the royal family and the title of Honorary Chaplain of the Royal House.

The pudding combines egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, port wine, and fresh bacon (yes, bacon!). The abbot liked to say that the pudding is easy to make but hard to make perfectly and that when well prepared, it has a unique taste. Paired with a glass of port wine, a slice of this pudding is a culinary delight.

Born in 1834, the abbot lived almost 100 years, dying in 1930. Could the abbot’s pudding be the secret of his longevity? We order it every time we see it on the menu to try to find out!

The scrumptious Pudim Abade de Priscos in the photograph was prepared at the restaurant of the majestic Pousada of Viana do Castelo.

Quorum

Quorum Composit

Just when we thought we knew every great restaurant in Lisbon, we found Quorum in Chiado. We went in without knowing what to expect. An amiable waiter greeted us with a glass of refreshing apple and pineapple cider made at the restaurant. It tasted like a Summer ale and set the evening of to an auspicious start.

As soon as the appetizers arrived, we knew that the dinner would be memorable. The trio, composed of sausage bread, “pataniscas” (codfish fried in batter), and dried, grilled octopus, was deliciously appealing. Sommelier Bruna Esteves filled our glasses with an interesting white wine made from Malvasia at Adega Cooperativa de Torres Vedras.

The following course was a delectable ravioli made with rose shrimp from Algarve and served in a sauce prepared with prosciutto and sausages from the Barroso mountain. It was accompanied by a delightful red from the Douro valley called Oboé. Next, came another savory treat: clams, potatoes and beetroots.

Soon after, a plate with pork belly cooked at 65 degrees for 28 hours and then cured arrived at the table. It had a rich, satisfying taste that was perfectly complemented by Quinta do Arcossó, a bold red wine made in Trás os Montes with the bastardo varietal.

Dessert was a gorgeous combination of sour oranges from Alentejo, olive oil, honey, and poejo (pennyroyal). It was paired with a “licoroso” (dessert wine) made with Fernão Pires at Quinta da Alorna. It was a fabulous end to a fabulous meal.

Quorum’s chef, Tiago Santos, trained as a geographer before going to culinary school. He likes to wander throughout Portugal in search of unique products and producers. He prepares his culinary finds with meticulous techniques and an exuberant imagination that make his dining room one of the most exciting in Lisbon.

Quorum is located at Rua do Alecrim 30 B Lisboa, tel. 21 604 0375.

The generosity of cork oaks

Cork Trees Ravasqueira

Cork oaks are generous trees. They provide homes to the birds that nest on their branches and nourishment to the black pigs that feed on their acorns. The bark of the oak tree is manually stripped to produce cork, a natural material known since ancient times for its versatility. Pliny the Elder writes in his Natural History that the bark can be used to make anchors, drag-ropes, and shoe soles. The bows and keels of the ships used by Portuguese navigators were made of cork.

After each stripping, the oak bark grows back. The first stripping generally occurs when the tree is 25-year old. Subsequent strippings follow a nine-year cycle. Trees are marked with a number that indicates the time of the last stripping. It takes 43 years for the bark to be thick enough to produce wine corks. So, most wine corks come from oaks that are much older than the wine they protect.

Cork oaks live for roughly two centuries. Their roots make them resilient to winds and droughts so they can grace the landscape of Portugal with their generosity and beauty.

L’and vineyards

L'and Vyneards

We arrived at L’and Vineyards blinded by the midday Alentejo sun. It was soothing to step into the cool shade offered by this elegant hotel surrounded by vineyards.

There are no normal hotel rooms at L’and. Each guest stays in a expansive suite that has an outdoor tub and fireplace. The ceiling on top of the bed opens at the touch of a button to reveal the star-studded Alentejo sky.

Early in the morning, we saw the first sun rays arriving at the vineyards. We then took a swim in the resplendent pool.

The service is seamless, the food delicious. We felt completely at home in this spacious, gracious hotel in the heart of wine country.

L’and vineyards is located in Montemor-o-Novo in Alentejo, tel. 266-242-400. Click here for their website.