As well as Portuguese dishes being massively influenced by the country’s huge coastline and fishing culture, many of the spicy flavours of the cuisine came about through discoveries on their seafaring voyages of old.
Portugal was one of the first countries to discover the spice islands of the Far East. Portuguese explorers also ventured to the North African coast and many other countries around the world.
The spices they discovered on these voyages, such as cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves and chillies, can still be found in many of Portugal’s popular sauces and dishes today.
Frango piri-piri – piri piri chicken
This spicy chicken dish is very popular with tourists and locals alike.
It’s coated in the famous, very hot, piri-piri sauce, which is made by fermenting garlic cloves, red birds-eye chillies and olive oil for approximately 12 weeks.
But when you’re relaxing in the Portuguese sun on holiday you’ll just want to arrive at the restaurant and order your food and enjoy. If you are wary of the spicy sauce you can ask for the dish without piri-piri spread on the chicken and the sauce will be served in a separate dish.
Arroz de marisco – seafood rice
The Algarve is renowned for its wide range of seafood dishes and arroz de marisco is similar to paella, but has a saucier consistency. The dish varies and is dependant on the available seafood, and in some areas contains chicken and chorizo too.
The spices include saffron, paprika and hot red bell peppers, which are cooked in a cataplana pan which is a popular sealed cooking pot used widely by the Portuguese. Some of these pans come in the shape of a clam shell and are hinged at the back edge.
Polvo a lagareiro – roasted octopus
When you travel abroad you might like to sample some of the more unusual local delicacies and one that stands out is roasted octopus.
Most people won’t have tried this succulent seafood dish before, prepared by being boiled in stock and herbs then roasted in an oven with plenty of garlic and local olive oil. It can be served in a variety of ways, one of which is with roasted potatoes that are cooked alongside the octopus while in the oven.
These absorb any juices that are released into the roasting tray, making a flavour-packed accompaniment.
Porco preto – black pork
Many chefs around the world love using the now famous Iberico ham, which comes from the Alentejo region of Portugal, close to the Algarve. Known as black pork, it gets its intense flavour due to the pigs eating vast quantities of acorns and wild herbs as they are left to roam freely around the countryside.
There’s a wide variety of cuts and dishes connected to this now famous breed, one of which is secreto, a long fatty strip of meat that is covered in salt and then roasted over coals until crispy.
Bacalhau – codfish
The salted codfish or bacalhau is the most common foodstuff in Portuguese cooking and there are an estimated 365 different dishes using it, one for every day of the year. You’ll find this dish in Madeira as well as mainland Portugal.
The fish is cleaned, salted and left in the sun to dry. It can then be kept at room temperature indefinitely. One of the most popular ways of serving the fish is called bacalhau com natas or bacalhau and cream which has a thick sauce with potatoes added and then baked.