Portuguese razor clams

We know nothing about the biology of the lingueirão (Portuguese razor clam). All we know is that, when steamed, it releases the scent of the ocean and we feel we are on the high seas. Use the cooking water to make lingeirão rice and the result is a dish with complex flavor. Guests will think you have been cooking for hours, reducing sauces, combining delicate infusions. And all you did was take advantage of the amazing biology of the lingueirão.

Reinventing Portuguese cuisine

You need to study before eating at Pedro Lemos’ wonderful restaurant in Oporto. You have to learn the taste of roasted suckling pig, the smell of codfish and chickpeas, the texture of veal from Miranda, the saltiness of sardines, the sweetness of rocha pears. Only then will you understand that Lemos is reinventing these traditional Portuguese flavors with imagination and soul.

Pedro Lemos, Rua Padre Luis Cabral, 974, Foz do Douro, Porto, Tel. 220115986, email reservas@pedrolemos.net

Piri piri

piri-piri

The Portuguese brought from Africa a small red pepper called bird’s-eye chilli that they use to make a popular hot sauce. In Portuguese both the pepper and the sauce are called piri piri (pronounced peeree peeree).

Restaurants that serve grilled chicken often make their own piri-piri sauce. What happens if you ask for their recipe? Here are some sample answers: “My Engleesh is not bery good, sory,” “We get it from Spain, you have to ask there.”

After years of undercover work, we gathered some piri-piri intelligence to share with you. The base of the sauce is usually vegetable oil, although a few restaurants use olive oil. Often, the piri-piri peppers are simply combined with the oil and left alone for a few days. In some cases, the oil is warmed to absorb more quickly the taste of the piri-piri pepper. Some recipes use vinegar, whisky, cognac, salt, parsley, coriander, cilantro, or garlic. No matter which version you try, piri piri will spice up your life.

Tremoço

If percebes are too adventurous for you, your next best bet is tremoços (lupini beans). You eat them by tearing the skin with your teeth and popping the seed into your mouth. Recent research finds that the tremoço is a great health food. These findings would not surprise Hippocrates who touted their health benefits 2,500 years ago.

Percebes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You eat these pre-historic looking crustaceans by twisting off their heads and exposing their meat. They taste and smell like the sea and they are great with beer.

The English name for percebes, “gooseneck barnacles,” comes from the medieval theory that they are embryonic barnacle geese. This theory conveniently explained why flocks of geese would suddenly appear out of nowhere (the fact that birds migrate was not known in the Middle Ages).

In any case, do not worry. There are no recent reports of percebes flying off the plate to migrate south.

Queijadas de Sintra


Queijadas de Sintra are cheese tarts made from fresh cow’s cheese, eggs, sugar, flower, and cinnamon. There are several producers and there is even an association that certifies whether the recipe is authentic. The ones featured here are from Casa do Preto (Estrada Chão Meninos, 44, Sintra).

Historians think that the first Sintra queijadas were produced in the Middle Ages (presumably without cinnamon). It is easy to believe that it has taken a few centuries to figure out how to make the shell so thin and the filling so moist and flavorful. And, if you try them, you will see that all this effort has paid off.

Portuguese corn bread

Broa is a delicious corn bread that is a great complement to many Portuguese dishes (if you guessed that broa goes great with grilled sardines, you guessed right).

For a while broa was hard to find in urban areas where people preferred bread made with white flour. But, over time, urbanites saw the error in their ways, so now you can find broa almost everywhere. The texture and color varies by region but the taste is always deeply satisfying.

Sardines

The sardine is the silver of the sea, mined by brave Portuguese fisherman to adorn the dinner tables of rich and poor.

Portuguese sardines have a layer of fat that melts during cooking and gives them their unique taste. The most popular way to cook sardines is to grill them on charcoal. They are usually served with grilled peppers dressed with olive oil. Another popular preparation is “sardinhas de escabeche,” fried sardines marinated in olive oil, vinegar, onion, and bay leaves.

During the June feasts of St. Antony, St. John and St. Peter restaurants set up their grills on the street and serve sardines to passersby, saints and sinners alike.