Such a lovely surprise to get a spontaneous invitation to join my two super fit sisters for a relaxing week on the Algarve, A quick flight from drizzly, frizzly Cork to Faro and seemingly eternal sunshine. What’s not to like about blue skies, 28°C to 30°C and not a chance of rain…In this idyllic scenario, no one was mentioning last summer’s fires, but the charred remains of umbrella pines were a stark reminder of global warming, and that life is a trade off…already the temperature is several degrees higher than this month last year.
A week ago, the summer crowds had not yet descended so the restaurants and cafés were still eager and enthusiastic to welcome customers for the new season. We ate in several lovely cafés overlooking the white sandy beaches watching spectacular sunsets. As the light faded, little local fishing boats appeared along the horizon, close to the shore ‘lamping’ for squid and cuttlefish. Every menu features the beautiful fresh fish of the Algarve.
Giggi’s, close to the beach in Quinta de Lago served memorable spider crabs in the shell and delicious canilhas…the little sea snails that I love, I saved the beautiful curvaceous shells to add to the walls of the Shell House in the Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens. And then there was wild sea bass, simply grilled on the bone with a butter sauce and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, exquisitely simple. This is the signature dish on so many restaurant menus… Antonio’s, Izzy’s, Edwardo’s on the beach at Almancil….
Lots of highlights on this trip, Irish chef Johnny Pratt at Trimoulet introduced me to a board of delectable local cheeses and tempted me with wafer thin slices of cured tuna called Muxama, a new discovery for me…
I also linked up with several BCS alumni. Zé Canine and his mum, legendary restaurateur Jackie Price showed us around their farm, which supplies the Casa do Campo restaurant with fresh organic vegetables, fruit, herbs and chillies. Later we enjoyed the fruits of their gardener Fatima’s labours under the ancient fig tree in the outdoor dining room. Maria Flaminga’s organic farm and farm shop in Tavira was another exciting discovery.
Lots of farmers’ markets and local craft in the area too, love the Saturday Market along the water’s edge in Olhão and the Loulé Market which meanders into numerous cobbled side streets. Check out the scene at O Postigo, a local taberna traditional Portuguesa or 8100 in the market, for an espresso and a pastel de nata or some of the much talked about artisan homemade ice cream. Look out for the huge squishy, juicy, red Portuguese tomatoes, local Tavira fleur de sel and a tantalising selection of salami made from the pork and blood of the long-legged black Iberian pig, studded with juicy chunks of tender fat. I also found little sachets of Aleppo pepper and many variations on the little fig and almond sweetmeats.
At the neighbourhood restaurant overlooking the sea at Vila Nova de Cacela, I particularly loved the riso con lingueirão, razor clam rice, a local Portuguese dish I love to seek out. Carob was everywhere, but somehow, I don’t love the flavour…
For Sunday lunch, we travelled up into the hills to a busy traditional local village restaurant called A Tia Bia, where three generational families had come to tuck into fine helpings of hearty, home-cooked food. Meltingly tender, slow roast goat or pork cheeks with cabbage, wild boar stew, migos with deer, pheasant, partridge, and wild boar served in a scooped-out bread loaf.
For those of you who love fish, the market at Quarteira where the local fishermen land their catch is not to be missed. Spanking, fresh fish with many rare species not found around our coast. Wild sea bass, (endangered in our waters), bream, Portuguese sole, corvina, eel, gurnard, gorgeous silver scabbard fish, octopus, clams, tiny conquilhas. Beautiful little anchovies, whole or gutted, ready to be pickled or fried. Sadly, the sardine season doesn’t start until the end of May but there were pilchards and lots of superb, tinned sardines, mackerel and tuna. Sardine pâté is another Portuguese favourite often served with bread at the beginning of a meal, and then there’s Piri Piri chicken, delicious, spicy chicken that you can’t leave Portugal without tasting. There are several favourite haunts with their own interpretation, but we enjoyed SR Frango in Almancil. Their version is made with poussin, tender, delicious, spicy, but not too searingly hot. The perfect supper after a walk or cycle along the boardwalk or bird watching on the Rio Formosa lagoon and nature reserve, flamingos, bitters, storks, herons, egrets, spoonbills, hoopoes, blue magpies…
Here are some of the dishes that I’ve enjoyed recreating since my return
from the beautiful Algarve.
Spider Crab with Olive Oil and Lemon
450g (1lb) spider crab meat
extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon cut into eight wedges
To serve, drizzle the crab meat with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, divide between the shells.
Put a generous tablespoon of homemade mayonnaise into a little shallow bowl and pop onto the plate, add a segment of lemon and serve.
How to cook spider crabs
All types of crab are best cooked in seawater. Alternatively, cook in well-salted freshwater. Put the crab into a deep saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm water, using 175g (6oz) of salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints) of water. This may sound like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet.
Cover the saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 12 minutes.
We usually pour off two-thirds of the water halfway through cooking, and then cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then
remove the crabs, cool and pick the meat from the legs and clean and wash out
Piri Piri Chicken
Careful not to make it too hot…serve with chips and lemon wedges as the Portuguese do.
4 chicken legs – separate the thigh and drumstick but leave the skin on and bone in
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or flaky salt
piri piri sauce
1-4 red African or Thai bird’s eye chillies, to taste
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or flaky salt
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
1 tablespoon port or 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
Whisk together the lemon juice and garlic for the marinade. Slash the chicken skin and put into a small roasting tin just big enough to hold it, pour the marinade over it, turn to ensure it’s well coated. Season generously with the salt, cover and leave at room temperature for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, roughly chop two chillies and the garlic together. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and salt, whizz to a purée (or use a pestle and mortar). Whisk in the paprika and oil. Taste, add more chilli if you think it needs it.
Light or heat the barbecue, if using. When it’s up to temperature, grill the chicken for 20 – 30 minutes preferably on a BBQ with a lid on. Check when it’s almost done, brush with piri piri and cook, lid off, for about another 10 minutes, until cooked through – cooking times will depend on the size of the chicken.
Alternatively, heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, roast the chicken for about 35 minutes, until cooked through, basting occasionally with its juices. Heat a grill pan to medium hot, brush the chicken with spicy piri piri, and grill for a few minutes on each side, until just starting to char.
Serve hot with some extra sauce on the side and lots of crispy chips.
Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)
Pasteis de Nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
115g (scant 4oz) golden caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
400ml (14fl oz) whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a sprinkling of ground cinnamon (optional)
900g (2lb) puff pastry
Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.
Cook on a medium heat and stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and cinnamon if using.
Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool. Cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.
Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs. Press into the muffin tins.
Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case.
Bake in the preheated oven for 16 – 20 minutes or golden on top and
slightly charred. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to
a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature.
Portuguese Coconut Roll
The Portuguese make several riffs on this egg roll, orange, praline, caramel…I really enjoyed a coconut version at A Tia Bia restaurant on my recent trip who have taken ‘poetic licence’ by adding a layer of lemon curd but it’s also pretty delicious without it. Careful not to overcook or it will be dry. Traditionally egg rolls were made in convents to use up a surplus of egg yolks when the white were needed for fining wine.
4 eggs, separated
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) softened butter
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) milk
50g (2oz) grated coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
75g (3oz) plain white flour, sieved
caster sugar for dusting
2-3 tablespoons coconut
Lemon Curd (optional) (see recipe)
softly whipped cream to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4
1 baking tray – 32.5 x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) lined with parchment paper and brushed with melted butter
Separate the egg yolks from the whites – save the whites until later. Whisk the egg yolks and 100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar in a food mixer at medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy.
Add the soft butter, milk, grated coconut, vanilla extract and honey. Mix for 2-3 or until evenly incorporated (it may curdle a little but don’t worry). Mix the baking powder with the sieved flour, stir into the wet ingredients and beat on a low speed until creamy. Whisk the egg whites until light and fluffy, fold gently into the mixture. Spread the dough evenly into the prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes approximately or until slightly golden.
Meanwhile, lay a tea towel on the worktop, cover with a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle with a mixture of caster sugar and coconut. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and flip the tin onto the parchment paper. Remove the tin and carefully peel the parchment paper off the sides and base of the roll. Slather with lemon curd (optional). Then using the towel and parchment, start to roll gently from either the long or short end depending on how chunky you would like the roll. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with a little more grated coconut and serve with softly whipped cream.
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge. It is best eaten within a fortnight.
Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.
Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
50g (2oz) butter
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)
Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Filhós (Portuguese Donuts)
A filhó is a traditional dessert in Portugal. Filhós are usually made by shaping balls from a mixture of flour and eggs but can be cooked in sheets. When the dough has risen, the balls or squares are deep fried and sprinkled with sugar or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
2 x 7g (1/4oz) active dry yeast sachets
110ml (4fl oz) warm water
350ml (12fl oz) warm milk
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) butter, softened
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
625 – 685g (1lb 5oz – 1lb 7 1/2oz) plain white flour
oil, for deep-fat frying
225 – 350g (8oz) granulated sugar
2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon (optional)
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.
Add the milk, eggs, sugar, butter and salt; beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to form a soft dough (do not knead). Start with 625g (1lb 5oz) flour, although you may need to use 685g (1lb 7 1/2oz) – the dough should not be sticky.
Place in a greased bowl, flip over to oil the top.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 hour.
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190°C/375°F.
Drop tablespoonfuls of dough, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Fry for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes on each side or until deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Immediately roll warm doughnuts in the granulated sugar or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.