You will find that Portuguese cooking is generally simple. The key lies in the different ingredients, how they behave together and how you treat them.
Officially the oldest nation state in Europe, Portugal has, over centuries of exploration and expansion, brought a global larder of ingredients to its shores – potatoes and sugar from the Americas, and spices from India are all still key to our eating habits. Added to these, Nordic preservation techniques account for the tradition of salt-curing fish, especially cod. The scaffold of Portuguese cuisine is built from these influences from abroad, as well as the country’s influence on the rest of the world.
For the most part of our history, we have been a poor country, with limited access to finer ingredients and a populace fed on the things the monarchy and elites rejected: stale bread, bad wine, vegetable trimmings and animal offal. But from such limitations, ingenuity inevitably develops, and some of our most appreciated and classic dishes are testament to this deep tradition. The country was, out of necessity, an early adopter of ‘nose-to-tail’ eating.
Despite a history of relative poverty, Portugal has always benefited from a rich and diverse landscape that encompasses fertile, flat farmlands and salt marshes. Just a short drive south from Lisbon, for instance, rice has been grown along the River Sado since the 16th century.
But the most consumed product in Portugal by far is bacalhau (salt cod), with numbers suggesting an average annual consumption of 6kg per person. It’s no wonder that its nickname is fiel amigo – ‘faithful friend’. It is said that there are as many as a thousand different recipes for bacalhau, and although I think this may well be an exaggeration, it cannot be far off the mark.
As my friend Enrico always says: “Portugal is the sleeping giant of gastronomy”. Time to wake it up!
Here are five Portuguese Dishes you must try...