But some pigs are more equal than others. There is a clear hierarchy among Portuguese pigs. The black pig is at the top of the heap. This aristocratic swine feasts on acorns and is often exported to Spain to be turned into Iberian ham. Restaurants use fanciful names to describe cuts from this animal: secretos (secrets), presas (prey), and plumas (feathers).
Next on the social scale, we have the “leitão,” the famous suckling pig that is roasted to perfection in the Bairrada region and served with sparkling wine.
The rank below is occupied by the “porco bísaro,” a pig with big ears that is a cousin of the wild boar. Its tasty meat has made it all the rage in the north of the country.
The normal pig is at the bottom of the snout ladder. But the meat from this humble animal is essential to sublime preparations, such as pork with clams and presunto (Portugal’s version of prosciutto) with melon. It just goes to show that we should ignore social conventions and treat all pigs as equal.
Quince jam (marmelada) is very popular in Portugal. Some people like it freshly made, when it is soft and yellow, while others prefer it aged, when it is hard and dark red. But both factions agree that a slice of buttered bread with marmelada is one of the world’s most simple and satisfying pleasures.
Marmelada is often paired with a slice of queijo da ilha, a cheese from the Azores islands. This combination is so perfect that it is known as “Romeo and Juliet.” Be sure to try it when you visit Portugal!
Below you’ll find a marmelada recipe from a 16th century Portuguese cookbook attributed to Infanta D. Maria. If you find quinces in your local market, bring them home and make some marmelada. There is something very special about cooking from a recipe that is four centuries old.
MARMELADA D. JOANA
Use two kilograms of quince and 1.5 kilograms of sugar. Cook the quince in a covered pot of water. Peel the quince, cut it in pieces and strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Combine sugar and water in a pot and make a syrup. Add a little orange-flower water to the syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and combine the strained quince pulp with the syrup. Heat this mixture and stir the marmalade until it no longer sticks to the bottom.
Lampreia (lamprey) is a very strange fish that, somehow, gained favor with emperors and kings. The Romans included it in banquets prepared for Julius Caesar. The oldest known Portuguese cookbook, a 16th century collection of recipes attributed to Infanta D. Maria, has a single fish recipe that describes how to prepare and cook lamprey.
You don’t have to conquer Gaul or marry royalty to eat lamprey. Many Portuguese restaurants offer this delicacy between January and April. It is usually served stewed, accompanied with rice. You find excellent lamprey at Solar dos Presuntos, a traditional Lisbon restaurant where you can dine like a king.
Restaurante Solar dos Presuntos, Rua das Portas de Stº Antão, 150, Lisbon. Tel. 21 342 42 53, GPS coordinates: 38º43’07″N and 9º08’51″O. Click here for their website.
A cataplana is a copper pan made of two clam shells that can be sealed with a clamp. The origins of this cooking contraption are lost in time. In the early 20th century Portuguese hunters carried cataplanas loaded with onions and tomatoes, so they could cook game on a wood fire. Later, in the 1960s, the cataplana became a popular way to cook fish and shellfish in the Algarve. Since then, it has become a hallmark of Portuguese cooking.
There is something magical about the moment when the waiter brings a cataplana to the table. And it is not hard to imagine that, as he opens the pan, he murmurs the same secret incantation used in the banquets of the Arabian Nights to make the meal unforgettable.
You can buy a cataplana at Loja Pollux Hotelaria, Rua da Madalena, 263, Lisboa, tel. 218-811-291, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or at A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11 in Chiado, Lisboa, tel. 213 465 073.
Marcel Proust immortalized the madeleines in his writing. But the French did not change the name of these little cakes to prousteleines or madeleines à la Proust. When Bulhão Pato, a 19th century writer, waxed poetically about a clam dish, the Portuguese named the recipe after him. Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato (clams Bulhão Pato) has become the classic Portuguese clam recipe.
It is easy to prepare: combine olive oil and garlic in a pot; add the clams. Once the clams open, add some chopped coriander and a few squirts of lemon juice.
The recipe is designed to showcase the splendor of the Portuguese clams. You’ll be disappointed if you use this recipe with lesser clams. Order clams Bulhão Pato at a beach-side restaurant and you’ll understand why Bulhão Pato considered them pure poetry.
One day someone will write an encyclopedia about Portuguese sausages. And all thirty volumes will be best sellers. A play based on this work will be adapted to the cinema. And the blockbuster movie will feature Juliette Binoche playing a farmer who makes sausages from the meat of unicorns and other magical creatures.
Those exotic sausages would not compare with the real thing: a sausage called “chouriça” made with pork marinated in red wine, paprika, garlic, and bay leaves, and smoked slowly during Winter. It is culinary magic.
There is so much about this restaurant that is out of a fairy tale: two brothers, an ancient spring, a magical landscape, food and wine fit for a king.
In 2004 the brothers Artur and Carlos Lopes found a late 19th century barn in Sobral do Parelhão, a small village near Bombarral, 70 km north of Lisbon. There, they built a restaurant perfectly in tune with its surroundings. They called it Mãe d’Água (water source) because water from a nearby spring runs through the building.
They cut the ancient brick walls to open large windows that frame the handsome landscape of Estremadura. They filled elegant wood cabinets with wines from the region. They chose a menu full of delicacies, briny shrimp in garlic sauce, fragrant lingueirão rice, tender lamb chops, and much more. Mãe d’Água is a fairy tale come true.
Sobral do Parelhão, Bombarral, Rua 13 de Maio 26, 2540-467 Carvalhal, tel.262 605 408, email email@example.com, click here for their website.
In August farmers markets overflow with pera rocha (rocha pear), a delicious pear variety unique to Portugal. In 1836 António Rocha, a horse dealer from Sintra, noticed a tree that produced unusual pears. These pears had a crusty texture, a sweet aroma, and a refreshing taste. He shared grafts from this wonder tree with his neighbors, who shared them with their neighbors, spreading pera rocha throughout the west of Portugal.
Paul Cézanne, born in 1839, loved to paint pears. He painted them as overlapping abstract shapes, with warm colors and cool shadows, with flat brush strokes, with thin washes of pure pigment. All his life he searched for the perfect pear. He did not know that António Rocha had found it.
Archaeologists discovered 2,000 year-old Egyptian honey that is still in good condition. This longevity stems from the honey’s remarkable purity.
There are a number of Portuguese beekeepers that strive for this purity. They spurn the industrialized processes that sacrifice the bees to extract the honey. They shun the additives used to keep the honey from crystalizing during Winter. Some produce honey from the nectar and pollen of a single flower species, such as eucalyptus, lavender, or rosemary. Others produce multifloral honey, extracted only after the bees feasted on flowers from all seasons, from the wild flowers that bloom after the Winter rains to the fleeting pumpkin flowers that bloom only for a day.
It takes a little effort to find this superior artisan honey. It is mostly sold in farmers markets (one of our favorite producers, Miguel Evaristo, sells his honey at the Lourinhã fair on the last Saturday of each month). But, once you buy it, you can take your time enjoying it. It is good for 2,000 years.
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.