The A to Z of Portuguese Food – Part 8
V is for Vaca
Vaca is Portuguese for ‘cow,’ which comes in all manner of cuts from the butcher’s counter. One of the most popular ways to serve beef in restaurants is as a fat steak presented with a fried egg on top.
Steak in restaurants can vary considerably in quality, as can steak from the supermarket. The trend of selling aged steak has not caught on in Portugal as it has in the UK, meaning steaks here tend to be less flavourful by comparison. There are still good steaks available (some of the best we have had have been from cattle reared in South America), but finding good steak is a fairly hit and miss process.
Another common use for beef is in hamburgers, which are available in pretty much every high street and shopping centre food court, thanks to Burger Ranch (the Portuguese equivalent of Burger King). Burger Ranch burgers are cooked to order and actually pretty good, so far as fast food goes. The Triplo tends to be the ultimate takeaway Man Vs Food challenge for our guests. With three beef patties, as well as cheese slices and salad, it’s a seriously big burger.
Many food courts also feature a slightly more upmarket burger joint – H3. H3 celebrates the beef patty by serving it in a variety of forms, mostly without bread. From a simple burger with half a lemon slice placed on top, to the complex foie gras, onion confit and port wine reduction offering, the emphasis is on fresh, gourmet-style food, at least so far as is achievable by a takeaway chain!
W is Wine
Wine is an essential item in Portugal. To serve dinner without it would be bordering on unthinkable. The fact that good wine is available from around €1,75 upwards means that wine is an affordable commodity for every family.
Portuguese wine comes in red, white, rosé, green and rosé green forms. Although for many years the quality of Portuguese wine was little known outside of the country’s borders, it is gradually beginning to become increasingly popular overseas.
To summarise Portuguese wine in a couple of paragraphs is impossible, but for our particular recommendations, check out the wine reviews included elsewhere on this blog.
X is for Xerovia
Xerovia (also sometimes spelled cherovia) is Portuguese for ‘parsnips.’ A core part of our winter Sunday roast back in England, parsnips are now an infrequent treat for us. They struggle to grow successfully in the Algarve as they need frost to flourish, so we rely on imports from further north. Supply is unsteady to say the least and, when they do pop up in the supermarkets, parsnips are often past their best.
Christmas dinner in Portugal always involves a dedicated hunt for parsnips. If the local stores aren’t up to the challenge, we head to Iceland, which opened here a couple of years ago and thankfully brought with it a stash of frozen parsnips. For us, Christmas dinner simply wouldn’t be complete without them.
Y is for Yeast
Yeast is an essential ingredient for Portuguese bread and fresh bread is something that the Portuguese do extremely well. It is fair to say that bread has become something of a mild obsession for me since moving here, as this article explains.
If you’re trying your hand at making Portuguese bread, avoid rapid-rise yeast: fresh Portuguese bread needs to rise slowly in order to fully develop its flavour. Avoid adding salt when you first mix the yeast with warm water (you can add the salt later) and make sure that the water is warm rather than hot. Stick with these simple rules and you will be making delicious Portuguese bread in no time.
Z is for Zest
With oranges and lemons growing in abundance in the Algarve, zest is an ingredient that we use frequently when cooking. From savoury dishes to lemon tarts, to super-sweet Portuguese cupcakes with lime and chocolate frosting, zest is an essential ingredient in our kitchen. Three of my favourite zesty recipes since we have lived here include:
The fact that my mother’s orange trees produce more fruit than we can possibly consume every year means that we are constantly finding new ways to use juice and zest in our recipes, so regular readers are sure to see these pop up time and again over the years ahead!
Image credits: Commons Wikimedia