If the only thing you know about Portuguese food is chargrilled chicken, sardines and custard tarts, please go to the back of the queue.
The Portuguese sailed the world for several hundred years while the English were still learning how to build ocean-going boats, so their exploration of the world, and the flavours they brought back with them created one of the first modern border-busting cuisines. While the culinary heritage of Portuguese dishes binds it to the traditions of Europe, flavours and spices from South America, Africa and Asia make it unique.
So Portuguese food has it all – simply presented, classic peasant dishes with great flavours plus that little bit of punch. Dig a bit deeper, so you too can unearth this country’s vast bank of culinary treasures.
The key ingredients
Portugal’s cuisine is influenced not only by its location and geography but also by its history. Pork, shellfish, salted cod, sausages, olives, potatoes, rice, kale and chicken are the key ingredients in this cuisine. Wine is also important to Portuguese cuisine and pairs well with many dishes.
Portuguese food influences
Obviously the biggest influence Portugal has had on Australia is the chargrilled peri peri chicken. But Portugal-born Chef José Silva hopes to change all that. Today, Silva runs bibo Wine Bar in Double Bay, where the menu runs from petiscos (much like tapas) of smoked mackerel pâté and sardine & squid ink beignet, to chicken rissoi, a type of halfmoon rissole coated in breadcrumbs. At Bibo, Silva’s half-mooned rissois are filled with anything from chicken and beef to prawns, and then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried – perfect bar food.
While the Portuguese influence in other local dishes is still in its infancy, winter is an ideal time to consider a Portuguese spin on your menu. Simple marinades, featuring garlic and bay, often flavour Portuguese pork dishes. One of the most popular is porco alentejana, pork neck or pork belly, marinated in garlic, bay and white wine then confited in lard, crisped up with potatoes and then finished off with some clams.
“This is probably the most popular pork dish I know,” says Silva. “I just started doing it again (at Bibo) because of the colder weather. I do a version with the pork neck cut into a steak and then the cover it in clam sauce with paprika. It’s the Portuguese version of surf and turf.”
We even have street food including sandwiches which are amazing. My top tip is francesinha, which uses four types of meat with a spicy sauce with cheese and is toasted. It’s the Rolls Royce of sandwich food, almost like a croque madame but even better.
As winter pushes us to warmer dishes, a seafood stew or caldeirada do mar with prawns and mussels would really work well to beat the cold. The Portuguese love their sausages, like the alheira de caça, a sausage stuffed with garlic, bread, and game meat, but can also be alternated with venison or chicken.
There are also a wide variety of herb and spice elements the Portuguese play with, from the previously mentioned peri peri marinade with bird’s eye chilli, to paprika, bay leaves and cinnamon used in savory dishes. And starches can also vary from potatoes to rice.
So as you can see, infusing the chargrilled peri peri into any kind of meat imparts a delicious array of Portuguese flavours into your autumn and winter menus. There is so much Portuguese cuisine has to offer!
Who's doing Portuguese well?
Gloria’s Portuguese Restaurant in Petersham is Sydney’s first authentic Portuguese restaurant. From breakfasts, entrees, dinners, and desserts, the restaurant features a drool- worthy selection of Portuguese dishes.
Casa Do Benfica - Casa Do Benfica at Marrickville Tennis Club is hidden gem! Situated behind the club, this modest restaurant is one of Sydney’s best kept secrets and offers the most authentic Portuguese in town. Head on over for some grilled seafood, beef skewers and molotof - a cloud-like meringue sandwiched with delectable lemony custard.
Recipe inspiration to bring the Portuguese heat to your menu
Hot coals, grilling and a fare of full-flavoured spices are the hallmarks of great Portuguese. This hearty, peasant-style cooking, is full of paprika, bay leaves, olives and the coveted ‘peri peri’. Most dishes are garnished with a bright flurry of fresh parsley or coriander.
Here are two fiery recipes for your menu.