Friday, October 19, 2018

A Francesinha Recipe: Bring A Taste Of Porto To Your Home

Want to make a Francesinha, an iconic sandwich of Porto which is sometimes referred to as a "heart attack on a plate," at home? I now have a recipe for you.

During my recent trip to Portugal, we were ferried about by drivers from UNIQ, a car and driver service based in Portugal. Most of the time, I was in a van driven by Rui Peixoto (pictured above), and I sat in the front passenger seat. Thus, I frequently chatted with Rui about a variety of matters. He was a consummate professional, personable, and very knowledgeable of history. Rui helped to make the trip a success and I would unquestionably recommend him and UNIQ to anyone traveling in Portugal.

Rui, who makes the Francesinha at home quite often, was generous enough to share with me a recipe for the Francesinha. He learned this recipe from Daniel David da Silva, the man who is likely to have invented the Francesinha, so you can't get any more authentic that that. Rui states Daniel gave the name of "Francesinha" to the sandwich in honor of French women because he considered them rather "spicy."

Ingredients for Francesinha (1 portion):
2 slices of toast
3 slices of ham
7 slices of flamenco cheese (aka Edam cheese)
1 sausage
2 slices of “paio” (This is traditional embutido sausage, and may not be easily available, so you might need to substitute another type of sausage, like chorizo or linguica.)
1 steak 150g to 200g

Ingredients for Sauce (For 4 people):
1 Knorr seafood soup
1 Knorr oxtail soup
3 medium onions
6 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Olive oil
"Maizena" flour to thicken
2 tablespoons of tomato pulp
1 beer
1 glass of brandy, or whiskey or hot water
1 glass of Port wine
1 glass of Portuguese white wine

Sauce Secrets: The main secret of the Francesinha is in the making of the sauce. The quantitative proportionality of the various beverages (beer, Port wine, table wine, among others) affects the greater or lesser "acidity or sweetness" of it, as well as the final taste.

Assembly of the Sandwich, From the base to the top:
Slice of loaf of bread (1 unit)
Ham (1 unit) + Cheese (1 unit)
Cheese (1 unit)
Paio (1 unit)
Steak (1 unit)
Ham (1 unit) + Cheese (1 unit) + Paio (1 unit)
Open sausage (1 unit)
Slice of loaf of bread (1 unit)
Cheese (5 units)
     Once the final slices of cheese has been placed atop the bread, place the sandwich into the oven to melt the cheese.
     Note: Preferably, grill the sausage and steak.

Direction for the Sauce:
1. Place olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped onion, bay leaves, salt and parsley in a pan.
2. Bring to a boil, adding a little water and stirring occasionally.
3. When starting to brown, add beer, tomato pulp, chilli, port wine, and white wine.
4. Boil about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove the bay leaves.
6. Grate everything very well with a magic wand (aka handheld immersion blender).
7. Prepare the soups, seafood and oxtail, separately and individually. It takes about 15 minutes.
8. Add the soups to the main "sauce".
9. Grate everything again with the magic wand (2 minutes).
10. Let it boil for 10 minutes, stirring continuously and serve very hot.
11. If necessary, thicken the sauce with "Maizena" flour.

Side dish: Originally, the Francesinha was served simply, however, it can be served and/or accompanied by: Fried egg, French fries, or Crayfish.

Drink: The drink that best represents and accompanies this iconic Portuguese delicacy is beer.

Some Additional Notes From Rui: Use about 6 tablespoons of tomato pulp to give more color and taste to the sauce. I put a slice of bread in the assemblage of the Francesinha immediately after the steak (in the middle of the Sandwich). I do not use cornstarch because the sauce has a good consistency. However, you can freeze the leftover sauce and when you unfreeze it, you can add water (to make it last longer) and you can thicken it a bit with cornstarch. I always put a glass of whiskey or brandy and another of aguardiente. I also put a hotdog together with the sausage and the grill all the ingredients.

My own thoughts on this Recipe: The Francesinha has numerous variations so you can easily tweak this recipe to your own preferences. And most restaurants zealously guard the recipe for their Sauce, which might vary from what Rui has provided. I look forward to trying to prepare this dish at home in the near future. And I hope some of my readers will take up the challenge to make a Francesinha as well. Many thanks to Rui for sharing how recipe with us.

Leitaria da Quinta do Paço: Whipped Cream Eclairs in Porto

During my recent visit to Portugal, I wished I'd had more free time to explore the fascinating city of Porto. I tried to visit the Livraria Lello, an intriguing book store, but it was closed when I stopped by. However, a short distance away, I was able to check out the Leitaria da Quinta do Paço, a dairy and bakery especially well known for their eclairs.

The Leitaria da Quinta do Paço was established nearly one hundred years ago, in 1920, producing milk, butter, cheese and whipped cream. Historically, they are supposed to be the first dairy that distributed their milk in glass bottles. They became famous for their whipped cream, which was originally sold in waxed paper bags. Eventually, they started making eclairs, filling them with whipped cream rather than the usual custard. They now have several locations in Portugal where you can find their products.

A Medium Classic Eclair sells for 1 Euro and a Large one costs 1.40 Euros. The other different flavors, from Caramel to Passion Fruit, cost an additional .10 Euros. All very reasonable prices.

The Clássico Eclair is covered with chocolate and filled with whipped cream. They use the same recipe to create these eclairs as they have always done.

Some of the different Eclair flavors in the case. They also make Savory Eclairs as well as numerous other sweets, though I was there just for the eclairs.

I very much enjoyed the Eclair, from its rich chocolate covering to the sweet whipped cream inside of it. There was a bit of a crunch to the eclair itself. The chocolate was smooth and creamy while the whipped cream wasn't overly sweet. A delicious and decadent treat, one I'd definitely recommend. I bought a bunch of the eclairs to share with my van mates, and they enjoyed the eclairs as well. I didn't hear a single complaint from anyone. If you travel to Porto and want something sweet, then consider making at stop at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

O Reco da Baixa: Sande de Leitão (Suckling Pig Sandwich)

On my recent trip to Portugal, we made a relatively brief trip to the Vila do Conde Porto Fashion Outlet, a chance to do a little shopping. Vila do Conde, located about 20 minutes from Porto, is a coastal city with a rich history. So much of Portugal's cities and towns have such lengthy and fascinating histories. The outlet contains over 150 international fashion brands, all at discounted prices, as well as over a dozen fast food restaurants and cafes, from McDonald's to spots with more traditional Portuguese cuisine.

After shopping in a few stores, I wandered over to the food court, seeking out O Reco da Baixa, a place I'd previously read about. The restaurant specializes in Sande de Leitão, Suckling Pig Sandwiches, which easily beat having a Quarter Pounder. The restaurant was launched by four friends, Tomás Roquette, Rui Paiva, Henrique Pereira Leite and João Pedro Pereira Leite, who wanted to provide quality food in a casual setting. They source their piglets from the Anadia region, preparing them in a traditional manner. They now have several locations in northern Portugal and the outlet location was established in 2015.

The basic menu is simple and inexpensive, with a basic Suckling Pig sandwich for less than 6 Euros. And for only 7.5 Euros, you can get the sandwich with potato chips and a mug of beer (or 8.50 Euros for a cup of wine).

The Suckling Pig sandwich, almost like a sub, is essentially is sliced in half, both pieces fitting inside a cardboard box.

The sandwich is very simple, bread and lots of tender pork with pieces of crispy skin. With two of these sandwich halves in the box, you have a hearty meal. The bread was warm (a big bonus), thinner with a softness to much of it was well as a minor, but sufficient, level of crustiness. It was an excellent vehicle for the pork, making the meat the star rather than overgwhelming you with too much bread. The pork was flavorful and moist and I loved the crunchy pieces of skin. For a fast food restaurant, this was an impressive sandwich and I'd definitely recommend it.

The potato chips were a big hit too! They were clearly homemade, weren't too salty, had a nice crunch and sometimes a softness that comes from homemade chips. I could have easily devoured a large bag of these chips and they were a great accompaniment to the suckling pig sandwich.

Not all fast food restaurants are the same, and O Reco da Baixa shows the potential for quality food at value prices. Now we need a similar restaurant in the Boston area.

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Wednesday, November 7, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. Since 1973, Sonoma-Cutrer has been producing the finest quality wines. Its foundation is built in the hillsides and rocky foothills in the region recognized as the Sonoma Coast Appellation. In the 1970s, the company planted several different grape varieties and virtually overnight, Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnay grapes had gained a reputation for exceptional quality and were in high demand by many premium wineries.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with head winemaker, Mick Schroeter, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Sonoma-Cutrer vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Pan-Seared Scallop Tart, Shaved Fennel, Lemon Butter
Oyster Pâté, Puff Pastry, Onion Jam
Shrimp Scampi Skewer
Sonoma-Cutrer “Grande Cuvée,” Russian River Valley, 2014
Colossal Shrimp Scallopini (tomato burrata salad)
Sonoma-Cutrer Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2017
Halibut Imperial (wild mushroom ragout, cacio e pepe risotto)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres Vineyard” Single Barrel Private Select Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2016
Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 1998
Cedar Plank Salmon (pancetta, baby Brussels sprouts, Peruvian purple potatoes)
Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2015
Bananas Foster (vanilla ice cream, rum caramel sauce)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Late Harvest” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2015

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) On Wednesday, October 24, at 7pm, guests are invited to Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar to celebrate the beginning of White Truffle season with a one-of-a-kind Truffle Dinner presented by Chef Daniel Bruce. Chef Bruce, acclaimed chef and founder of the Boston Wine Festival, is an experienced forager and truffle expert and presents a special menu featuring the freshest flavors of the season.

The full menu for the Truffle Dinner is as follows:

“Black Tie” Diver Scallop, Truffle White Foam
2012 Negro Lorenzo Roero Arnies Spumante
Shaved White Alba Truffle, Spinach Paint
2015 Domaine Dublère 2015 Diego Conterno Langhe Bianca Nascetta
Shaved Duck Prosciutto
2017 Francesco Brigatti Vespolina
Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms, Black and White Truffles, Sugar Pumpkin, Petit Rabe Cipollini Onion Confit
2014 G. D. Vajra Albe Barolo
2011 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
Black Truffle Crémeux, Honey Ice Cream, Citrus Marmalade, Puffed Rice
Marchesi de Gresy La Serra Moscato d’Asti

Tickets to the White Truffle Dinner are $250.00 per person (inclusive of tax and Gratuity) and are available for purchase on Eventbrite.
This dinner is 21+

3) You may not get a chance to dine at Noma in Copenhagen (named Best Restaurant 4 times and one of the hardest reservations in the world to get), but you can hear chef David Zilber, Director of Noma’s Fermentation Lab, talk about some of the magic behind the famed restaurant and their new book, The Noma Guide to Fermentation. He will be in Boston on Friday, October 26th, at 12:30pm, doing an event with Porter Square Books at First Parish Church in Cambridge

At Noma—four times named the world’s best restaurant—every dish includes some form of fermentation, whether it’s a bright hit of vinegar, a deeply savory miso, an electrifying drop of garum, or the sweet intensity of black garlic. Fermentation is one of the foundations behind Noma’s extraordinary flavor profiles. David Zilber is the chef who runs the restaurant’s acclaimed fermentation lab, and in this new book he has co-authored with René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma, they share never-before-revealed techniques to creating Noma’s extensive pantry of ferments. And they do so with a book conceived specifically to share their knowledge and techniques with home cooks. With more than 500 step-by-step photographs and illustrations, and with every recipe approachably written and meticulously tested, The Noma Guide to Fermentation takes readers far beyond the typical kimchi and sauerkraut to include koji, kombuchas, shoyus, misos, lacto-ferments, vinegars, garums, and black fruits and vegetables. And—perhaps even more important—it shows how to use these game-changing pantry ingredients in more than 100 original recipes.

You can purchase tickets here, and tickets include a copy of the book.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A History of Bacalhau: A Portuguese Staple

The greatest delicacy and triumph of the Portuguese cuisine is bacalhau (codfish), which is costlier than turkey, game or the best of beef.”
--Indianapolis Journal, December 24, 1899

Last week, after my plane landed in Porto, I was taken to lunch and there was bacalhau, salt cod, on the menu. During the rest of the week, bacalhau featured on a number of other menus as well. It is a ubiquitous and iconic Portuguese food, commonly referred to as fiel amigo, their "faithful friend." Other European countries enjoy salt cod too, such as France where it is called morue, Italy where it is known as baccalà, and in Spain where it is called bacalao salado. However, none of those countries have made salt cod such an integral element of their cuisine as in Portugal.

How did salt cod become so significant to the Portuguese?

Drying meat and seafood may be the oldest known form of food preservation, extending back about 100,000 years. Around the 8th century, the Vikings are known to have hung fish, which eventually included cod, out in the cold, drying it, and it became known as stockfish, which they would eventually export too. It appears that sometime by the late 10th century, Vikings explored the waters around Newfoundland, harvesting the plentiful cod in those waters and transforming it into stockfish.

This stockfish was light, easily transported aboard a ship, and nutritious, so much that a kilo of stockfish was thought to be as nutritious as five kilos of fresh cod. It was so well preserved that it had a shelf life of at least five years. Without stockfish, the Vikings probably couldn't have travelled as much, or as easily, as they did by sea.

At some point, and there is a large debate as to the timing, Basque fishermen, from the Pais Vasco in Spain, traveled to the waters off Newfoundland and began a lengthy period of cod fishing, jealously guarding the locations of these rich waters. It is believed that they were the first not only to dry cod, but also to salt them for preservation. The Basque then sold this salt cod to numerous European nations, including Portugal, which seemed to have whet their appetite for salt cod.

Though the Portuguese probably fished for cod themselves by at least the beginning of the 14th century, the first documentation of this activity was in 1353 when Portugal made a treaty with England, establishing the right of Portuguese fishermen to fish in the waters of England for a period of 50 years. Cod could be caught in the North Sea, but primarily on the coast. In exchange for these fishing rights, Portugal provided wine to England, the first documented shipment of wine between the two countries, a trade that eventually led to the creation of Port wine.

Previous to this time, the principal fish caught and sold in western Europe were herring and freshwater fish, with herring being quite a prolific fish. Around the 10th century, herring fishermen, especially in the Baltic region, learned how to preserve herring by salting it in brine-filled barrels. There barrels were transported across Europe and were especially popular in England, where Victorians referred to herrings as “silver darlings.” Herring became popular with both the poor and wealthy, and were a primary staple of armies that warred during these centuries.

However unlike stockfish, herring couldn’t be wind dried with similar results because herrings have an oily flesh that spoils quickly. Herring had to be immediately gutted and then placed between layers of salt and then repackaged in barrels of brine. This cured herring though wasn't particularly tasty and consumers had to work hard to make it edible. The early 14th century was especially bountiful for herring but the latter half of the century saw a mysterious decline, with a minor rebound in the early 15th century and then another significant decline.

With these serious problems in the herring industry, fishermen were seeking an alternative and salt cod offered a solution. The Basque were finally unable to hide the secret of the fishing grounds in Newfoundland, and by 1472, Portugal possessed maps of Newfoundland, referred to it as Terra dos Bacalhaus, “the Land of Cod.” Portuguese fishermen began to harvest cod in the waters of Newfoundland, and it is thought that by 1508, 10% of the seafood brought into their ports was salt cod.

Basque fishermen might have been the first to salt cod for transport, but others soon copied this method. Salting worked much better for cod rather than herring as cod isn't an oily fish, and much of its oil is connected in the guts. By the middle of the 16th century, about 60% of the fish consumed in Europe was cod, an astounding figure that would remain largely unchanged for a couple hundred years. Most of the remaining 40% was taken up by herring.

When Spain seized control of Portugal in 1580, its fishing industry suffered and Portugal had to trade for the salt cod it desired. Even when Portugal regained its independence in 1640, they still found it most reasonable to trade for salt cod rather than attempt to fish for it themselves. As Portugal possessed significant stocks of salt, especially from Setubal and Aveiro, it could trade this resource,  allowing others, primarily England, the ability to make salt cod. By 1620, England was exporting 90% of the salt cod they harvested, selling most of it to Portugal, Spain and some Mediterranean countries.

Cod fishing was an incredibly valuable industry, and it is claimed that from the 16th to the middle of the 20th century, the cod fisheries of Newfoundland generated greater wealth in Europe than the total amount of gold taken from the Americas. The documentation during this period commonly compared cod to gold, noting its vital importance.

If cod were less common, it would be held in as high esteem as salmon; for, when it is really fresh and of good quality, the delicacy and delicious flavor of its flesh admit of its ranking among the finest of fish.”
--Chef Auguste Escoffier

The popularity of salt cod was significantly tied to the spread of Christianity. For early Christians, Friday was considered holy, a day of atonement for the death of Jesus, and Christians were supposed to abstain from consuming meat. Soon enough, Lent also became a holy time of abstinence. It was believed that meat provoked carnal lust, so it was inappropriate on holy days. On the other hand, fish was considered to have a cold nature, decreasing lust.

Until about 1000, most people met their fasting obligations by eating freshwater fish, especially eels. By the 12th century, most of the fish they consumed was dried, salted, or smoked, and herring was a major component. Fresh fish was too expensive for most people and it was difficult to transport it to many areas. As Christianity spread, the number of holy days increased too. By the 13th century, holy days of fasting from meat occupied more than half the year.

As Portugal was largely a Christian nation, they ate plenty of fish during the year on holy days and salt cod became their fish of choice, especially as there were so many ways it could be prepared. And when you have to eat fish so often, more than half of the year, you want a versatile fish so you can vary your menu. Herring wasn't a versatile fish and many people disliked its taste. On the other hand, there is a common adage that there is a different recipe for salt cod for every day of the year. In reality, there are probably enough different recipes for every day of three years! There are Portuguese institutions which have gathered together over 1000 recipes for using salt cod.

Besides the religious reasons, fish was also quite important for armies, especially something like salt cod which could be easily transported, wouldn’t spoil, and possessed lots of protein. And during the centuries of incessant warfare, salt cod became vitally important to many nations. Their navies, merchants, and sailors also had a need for a similar type of food, and salt cod fit that role. Though the religious reasons for salt cod are receive the most attention, we cannot forget these other significant reasons for salt cod consumption.

An old Portuguese adage states that ‘Salt cod wants garlic’.”
--Taste of Portugal: A Voyage of Gastronomic Discovery Combined with Recipes, History and Folklore by Edite Vieira

The Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, has very little fat and contains more than 18% protein. Fattier fish are more resistant to salt, and take much longer to preserve, meaning the flesh could deteriorate before the preservation was complet, When cod is dried and salted, much of the water in its flesh evaporates and chemical changes occur. Salt cod becomes more than 80% protein, which made it a powerful food for warriors and seamen, and its flesh becomes chewier, milder, and almost sweet. The salt cod also contains nutritious potassium, iron and vitamins A, B and D.

Salt cod isn't used as is but needs to be soaked for approximately 24-48 hours in fresh water, with many authorities supporting the higher end of that range, before it is then boiled and simmered. If soaked properly, it is not high in salt and then you can use it in over 1000 recipes, preparing it in a myriad of methods, from grilling to frying.

While in Portugal, we enjoyed salt cod in several different preparations, with the fried/salt cod fritters seeming to be the favorite for most in our group. The broiled/baked recipes weren't as popular, though that seemed to be more due to the presence of tiny bones in parts of the fish. However, one night, our guide Ricardo gave us lessons in how to handle the bones, by starting to cut in the fish in the middle, The bones are generally located closest to the skin so starting in the middle you easily separate the bones from the rest of the fish.

These weren't my first experiences with salt cod and I loved the taste of the salt cod in all its different preparations. Locally, I've even had salt cod on a Francesinha sandwich! It was obvious to me that salt cod is still vitally important to the people of Portugal. It is no longer a dish only for holy days, but rather a staple for their table year round. Fresh cod is rare in Portugal, and they much prefer the taste of salt cod. If you travel to Portugal, you need to taste at least a few different salt cod dishes. Or learn how to prepare salt cod at home.