How do we tell the king?

We used to buy jams endorsed by the British monarchs, figuring that centuries of sampling jams at tea time gave them the practice required to select the cream of the jam crop.

We quite liked the British jams until one fateful lunch at Toca da Raposa in Ervedosa do Douro. A sampling of jams arrived without fanfare at dessert time. When we tried them, we experienced a whole new level of deliciousness!  

What makes these jams so sublime? Their fruit comes from the Douro valley, a place where the scorching summer heat and a wealth of soil micronutrients create unique conditions that intensify aromas and flavors. And each batch is handcrafted by Dona Graça, a legendary cook, and her talented daughter, Rosário. The two leave nothing to chance, shunning the use of preservatives and making adjustments small and large to ensure that the results are perfect. 

There is an orange jam chockfull of strips of orange rind that delight the palate and an orange and hot pepper jam with the ideal combination of sugar and spice. There are jars of jam brimming with perfectly ripe whole figs; a surprisingly delicious zucchini jam; amazing jams made with must from grapes used to produce port wine; jams made from a rare peach variety that grows amidst the vines, and much more.

The jams favored by his royal majesty pale by comparison with the wondrous jams from Toca da Raposa! The question is: how do we tell the king?

Toca da Raposa is located at Rua da Praça in Ervedosa do Douro, tel. 254 423 466.

A short guide to the cuisine of Portugal

Cozinha Portuguesa Book

In one of the letters collected in the volume Lettres Provinciales, published in 1657, the philosopher Blaise Pascal writes that “I have made this letter longer than usual because I did not have time to make it shorter.” Brevity is a virtue that requires time, skill and effort. This is the reason why we appreciate so much a small volume titled “Portuguese Cuisine: a Brief Look” recently published by the Portuguese Academy of Gastronomy.

Summarizing the astonishing diversity of ingredients and preparation methods of the Portuguese cuisine is a herculean task. But with 11 recipes carefully written and beautiful illustrated, this book succeeds in this difficult endeavor.

The collection opens with Portuguese meat pies with collard-greens rice. It is an inspired choice because this staple of home-cooked meals is a test of a cook’s skill. Different  people following the same recipe can produce results that vary from adequate to sublime.

The second recipe, Setúbal-style grilled red mullet, is a simple preparation that starts you off on a journey to master the fine art of grilling fish. The freshness of the fish, the amount of salt used to season it, the hotness of the coals, the distance from the coals to the fish, and the timing of the grilling all determine the final results.

Brás-style codfish is a brilliant recipe: an implausible combination of thin, fried potatos, eggs and codfish that surprises and delights. The preparation is quite forgiving, so even a novice can produce great results.

Making Algarve-style fish requires a cataplana, an oval pot that traps the steam to keep the fish moist. This device also collects the delicious juices and reduces them to enhance their flavor. The result is pure magic.

Marinated partridge uses a vinegar-based sauce called “escabeche.” The idea of marinating with acids is thought to come from Persia. It produces a wonderful dish that you can prepare in advance and serve at a dinner party.

Chicken with “cabidela” rice is a traditional recipe that uses the blood of the chicken to make the sauce for the rice. Combine it with a great red wine and you create a symphony of bold flavors that is deeply satisfying.

Roast kid goat is often served at family lunches on Easter Sunday. It is great comfort food that always creates harmony at the table.

Sweet angel hair pasta and honey cake are two easy-to-make, crowd-pleasing desserts.

Pudim Abade de Priscos is an unusual mixture of eggs, sugar, port wine, bacon, and spices invented by an abbot who was an exceptional cook.

The book ends with pasteis de nata (custard tarts). It is a time-consuming, difficult recipe. But if you take the time and effort to master it, you will earn the unending admiration of your dinner guests.

This precious little book can set you off on a culinary journey through the flavors of Portugal with recipes that you can enjoy right away and that you can perfect and refine every time you gather friends and family around the table.