• Grilled sardines. (Kaily Koutsogiannis)Source: Kaily Koutsogiannis
There's more to the country's cuisine than custard tarts.
8 May 2018 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 8 May 2018 - 3:07 PM

Moorish influence, native peasant cuisine and culinary imports from Portugal's colonial endeavours have shaped the country's cuisine. Expect lots of seafood, beans, rice, chillies, olive oil, cooking over coals and robust, earthy flavours.

About Portuguese food
Fire and passion are the hallmarks of Portuguese cuisine. It's all about cooking over hot coals and branding food with white-hot irons. It is an earthy peasant style of food centered on quite simple dishes, using few ingredients but with strong flavours, as seen in the now-famous Portuguese charcoal chicken.

1. Salted cod moves in mysterious ways

"Bacalhau" is Portuguese salted cod, and it has dominated the Meditteranean cuisine since the mid-1500s, when it was a means to preserve fish pre-refrigeration. Some say that there's 365 ways to cook bacalhau, "one for every day of the year"; others, more than 1000. Whatever the number, this salt cod, chickpea and egg salad (salad grao de bico) is one of these. 

2. Portuguese custard tarts aren't just popular outside Portugal 

Anyone familiar with the Portuguese custard tart is familiar with the thought, "why do they even bother selling them singly?". One is clearly never enough. It's a curious appeal too—cold custard in a cold pastry case. But somehow it just works... the pasty is crumbly and slightly salty, but with a little chew; the custard is solid but soft; the texture creamy but light (thank you, Portugal). Called locally, "pastel de nata", the tarts can be found at pastelerias throughout Portugal.

12 Portuguese desserts you'll obsess over
Wear elasticised pants, that's all we're saying.

3. Seafood reigns supreme

Portugal is a seafood-loving country, the highest per capita in Europe. These grilled sardines, cooked over charcoal with just a little lemon and salt will show you why—because the freshest seafood needs little intervention. 

4. You say chorizo, the Portuguese say chouriço

Meaty, fatty and heavily laden with paprika, chorizo is well-known and well-loved. If you can get your hands on the Portuguese version, chouriço, you'll find it just a flavourful but less spicy than it's Spanish relative. Try it straight-up with this plump and crisp grilled chorizo (chourico assado).

5. Piri-piri happened long before Nando's peri-peri

Both the variety of chilli and the sauce made from the chilli is known as "piri-piri" in Portuguese. The name comes from Swahili, with "piri-piri" meaning "pepper-pepper", and has morphed into several versions, including "pili-pili" and "peri-peri". Try making your own piri-piri chicken, and cook it on a barbecue for the best (and most authentic) results.

Uncovering the origins of peri-peri sauce
For many Australians, the spicy sauce known as peri-peri entered our psyches – and palettes – thanks to a certain colourful chicken chain, but the origins of this chilli-licious recipe extend far beyond a fast food store, taking us to Portugal and the heart of Africa.

6. Rice is big, really big  

Portugal is Europe’s largest consumer of rice, at around 17kg per person a year. It’s used in stews and soups, sauteed with seafood, baked with duck, added to blood sausage filling, and even used pastries and desserts. 

7. If you're in Portugal at Christmas, you'll eat (Portuguese-style) French toast

Making Portuguese rabanadas, like this recipe for fried bread with cinnamon sugar (rabanadas) is a three-step process: soak thickly sliced bread in milk, dip it in beaten eggs, deep-fry it in olive oil, then dust it liberally in cinnamon sugar. It's most commonly eaten during the Christmas period, washed down with a black coffee or nip of port wine.

8. Portuguese cornbread may not be what you're expecting, and leftovers are treasured as crumbs 

Cornbread usually conjures up images of American cornbread, which is grainy and cake-like, made with polenta and cooked in a cast iron skillet. Portuguese cornbread is more bread-like, using cornmeal mixed with wheat flour, and yeast as a rising agent. It's an absolute staple of local cuisine, and leftovers are turned into crumbs for salads, stews and sauteed dishes, like in this recipe for migas, a stew-like dish of cornbread crumbs, black-eyed peas, carrot, kale, pine nuts and aromatics.

9. Port is Portugal's most famous drink

This seems to be stating the obvious, but the correlation between Port and Portugal slips by many of us. Port is a fortified wine from Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. It had its heyday in 1700s England, and these days, outside Portugal, is just sipped by a few as an after-drink drink—the rest of us are more familiar with it as a cooking wine. It's used to bring sweetness, richness and a touch of acidity to this chicken thighs with pears, chestnuts and port. But, just like sherry, there's different varieties based on the grape varieties and aging process, the main ones being Ruby, Tawny, White and Pink.

Chicken thighs with pears, chestnuts and port

10. Tripe stew is a symbol of Porto

Porto-style tripe and white bean stew (tripas a moda do porto) is an iconic dish of Porto, and a symbol of the locals' resourcefulness. Legend has it, after donating all the city's produce to Henry the Navigator when he set off for Ceuta in 1415, all that was left was tripe. Locals turned it into this flavourful recipe.

11. For breakfast, they eat toasted sandwiches coated in cheese 

Traditionally, these doorstops-of-a-toastie contain pork, smoked sausage, bacon and beefsteak, and are topped with a fried egg and cheese. Our tuna francesinha (Portuguese cheese toastie) takes a (slightly) lighter route, using tuna, veal and ham. 

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Honey, orange and hazelnut cake

Through many wet, grey and sad days, I waited anxiously for the sun to arrive to shoot a picnic with all the foods I love: savoury tarts, smoked meats, cheese, marinated olives, fresh and dried fruit, and a delicious, rustic cake. The day was beautiful, cold and translucent. The reservoir of Caniçada acted like a watery mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills, boats and houses, some with smoke pouring out of chimneys. It takes a good dose of determination (and a bit of madness) to deal with the logistics of a shoot in the middle of the forest. Somehow, everything went as planned and we were able to enjoy our wintery picnic in all its glory, including this moist and buttery cake with the unique sweetness of honey, the perfume of oranges and the intensity of hazelnuts.

Alentejana pork and clam stew (carne de porco a alentejana)

The combination of pork and clams in this dish is unusual, but creates a rich flavour that makes it easy to see why this stew has become so popular across the country. The roast capsicum paste will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. You will need to marinate the pork overnight.

Candied gila pastries (folhados doce de gila)

Gila is a large type of marrow with pale flesh that is more fibrous than other marrow varieties. Candied gila is a popular pastry filling, adding a unique crunchy texture to sweets. As it takes 2 days to prepare, you can make this ahead and freeze it in an airtight container lined with baking paper for up to 1 year. You will need a sugar thermometer.

Black-eyed beans (feijao frade)
Portuguese doughnuts (bola de Berlim)

These Portuguese donuts are irresistible! The crème pâtissière is made with a generous amount of egg yolks resulting in a rich and luscious filling.