Gastronomic traditions in Portugal during Christmas
Feliz Natal or Boas Festas translates to “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”! Some will say – it’s
the most wonderful time of the year! Like in any other modern country, in Portugal, Christmas is more and more about presents, shopping and consuming. This version of Christmas is inevitable…it has not, however, yet hindered the festive spirit. Christmas
is also about family, friends, fireplaces and hearths, and of course about food and cooking. It is about people you hold in your heart forever…This festive period is filled with great joy as family, friends and loved ones gather together, exchange gifts
and enjoy each other’s company, hopefully in good health and high spirits. Towns and villages unveil their holiday decorations, mostly in the form of street lights and the Presépio
(Nativity Scene, often the scenes have dozens of characters including the holy family, animals, the wise men, shepherds, farmers and folk characters. I believe it is fair to say
that Christmas traditions in Portugal are still shaped by the strong Christian religious beliefs. Traditionally, Pai Natal, (Father Christmas), is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Day. Children used to leave their shoes
by the hearth or the fireplace and wake up early on Christmas Day to see what presents they have received. Although this is still a tradition in many households, the Christmas tree is more and more the centre of the occasion. The family reunion takes place
on Christmas Eve "Consoada" and consists of boiled codfish, potatoes and greens
dressed by rich olive oil. This can also be followed by seafood, octopus or roasted turkey, depending on the family budget and region. Many families attend the “Missa do Galo”, the midnight mass services.
Bacalhau com Todos (desalted cod fish with different vegetables )
Desalted cod fish rules in Portugal at Christmas and plays an essential part in the Christmas Eve dinner menu. For this dish, the salt cod, also potatoes. green cabbage, carrots, turnip, onion and eggs are boiled. These are all generously drizzled with good quality Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The tradition of this dish dates back to the time when the Catholic Church required the faithful to fast during religious feasts, forbidding them from eating meat and giving salt cod centre stage. List of ingredients (serves 4); 4 pieces of desalted cod; 4 large potatoes;1 large Portuguese kale (if not available use green cabbage); 2 carrots; 4 eggs;4 cloves of garlic; 2 dl extra virgin olive oil; 1 teaspoon of vinegar; Salt and pepper to taste;1 bay leaf. Method of preparation: Place the desalted cod in a pot with water. Bring pot to boil add, bay leaf and 3 cloves of garlic. When boiling turn off the stove,. Clover pot and let it rest 45 minutes. Peel the potatoes and carrots. Wash the cabbage. Place in a pot with salted boiling water and when the cabbage is tender. Remove. Boil the potatoes in the same water along with the carrots. boil the eggs for 6 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil with the garlic that is left. Arrange on a platter neatly, potatoes, cod, cabbage and eggs cut in half. Drizzle with Olive Oil and serve hot.
Peru assado (Roast Turkey)
List of ingredients (serves 10) : For the marinade: 4 to 5 kg turkey, 2lt white wine, 2 orange, 2 lemon, 1 tablespoon lard, 150 g sausage or chorizo, 1 tablespoon sweet pepper paprika, salt to taste, pepper to taste, For breast filling: 250g lean pork,250g beef, 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons butter, 120g “meat chorizo” Portuguese meat sausage, 50g pitiless black olives, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 bread crumbs,1 lemon zest, salt to taste,white pepper to taste. Stuffing for the filling of the belly: 4 potatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 eggs yokes, 1 medium size onion, 2 garlic cloves, 50g pitiless black olives, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, turkey giblets, salt to taste, white pepper to taste, nutmeg to taste.
Method of preparation: Marinade de Turkey: 14 hours before roasting, rub the turkey with the paste made out of the chorizo, lard, sweet pepper paprika, pepper, then place the turkey in a big enough basin (can be plastic) with the white wine, salt, lemon and orange slices. Make the breast filling: mince beef, pork and chorizo. Place a pan on medium heat with extra virgin olive oil. Add the previously softened bread in water, the chopped olives, chopped parsley, chopped onion and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and lemon zest and allow to mix well for 3 minutes. Make the belly filling: Start by boiling the potatoes and when done mash them. Add a spoonful of butter and the egg yolks, mix the chopped onion and garlic with extra virgin olive oil. Add the turkey giblets. Add the chopped parsley , the chopped olives and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, mix all very well. Once the fillings are ready, remove turkey from marinade basin and fill the turkey with the two different fillings and sew both openings with cooking thread. Place turkey in oven tray and rub well with the with the paste made out of the chorizo, lard, sweet pepper paprika, pepper. Insert Turkey in pre-heated oven 230ºC, sprinkle with white wine, leave for 35 minutes and when the breast is light brown, drizzle with the sauce in the tray and cover breast and wings with aluminium foil. Place again in oven at 185º C once in a while, open and brush oven tray sauce on the parts of the turkey that are exposed (two or three times is enough to not open the oven door too much and lower the temperature of the oven). After another 1hour and 40 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven, removed foil from breast and wings, carefully turn it over on its back and wings. Place again in oven for another 30-40 minutes. At the end of this time, turn it over again Return it to the oven to finish cooking. Once the turkey is golden, remove it from the oven to rest for about 15 minutes before carving. When it is time to serve place the turkey on a large board or tray. Meanwhile drain the sauce from the baking tray into a casserole and sift through a cloth to remove most of the fat. If the sauce is not to much add a cup of chicken broth. Let it boil for a few minutes until it is slightly reduced to the desired consistency. Remove fillings from inside turkey and place on serving dishes. Now you just have to take the turkey to the table to the waiting guests and carve it! Serve the Christmas Turkey accompanied by roasted potatoes, oven rice, lots of mixed vegetables and a good mixed salad. Some orange slices to are also delicious. Good Appetite!
Polvo de Natal (Christmas Octopus)
I have to confess that although I like to vary and even surprise in the meal department, when it comes to Christmas, it all comes down to one single word: Tradition. Salty cod, octopus and turkey are the holy trinity who presides over most Portuguese Christmas eve dinner and Christmas lunch, believe me here there´s no room or desire for gastronomic changes. Octopus stew with thin slices of toasted bread and roasted octopus with olive oil and paprika are two of the traditional dishes served through out Portugal on Christmas day. Today I'll share both recipes with you all I sincerely hope you try them and enjoy. Octopus stew with Porto wine and Roasted Octopus. List of ingredients (serves 4) 1 octopus (4-5 kg) For the octopus stew: 4 ripe tomatoes diced,3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 dl Porto Wine (ruby), 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 medium onion chopped, 1 small bunch of parsley,1 bay leaf, salt to taste, freshly ground black pepper to taste. Chopped parsley to server and thin slices of toasted rustic bread (2 per serving). For the roast octopus: 6 potatoes peeled and cut into 4 pieces, 2 dl Extra Virgin Olive Oil,1 big onion cut into rings,1 bunch of parsley, 2 tbsp. paprika, 4 crashed garlic cloves, salt to taste, freshly ground black pepper. Method of preparation:Fill a big pot with water and place on stove. Once it starts to boil, plunge the octopus into the water and pull it up immediately, dip the octopus the scalding treatment 2 times more, ( according to my dear friend Amada) this will make it more tender. Discard most of the water and cook the octopus until almost tender, in very low heat and with the pot covered. It will take about 50 minutes. Cut the octopus in half and keep the water for the stew. Cut one half into pieces to use in the stew and keep the other half whole for the roast. The stew: In a panheat the olive oil and fry the onion until soft. Add the octopus pieces, the tomatoes, parsley, garlic, port wine and bay leaf. Cook over low heat with the lid on, for around 20 minutes. Check out the pot once in a while and add a bit of the boiling water if the stew becomes dry.Sprinkle some chopped parsley on top and serve with thin slices of toasted bread. The roast: Preheat the oven to 200º C, Cover the bottom of a baking dish with the onion and parsley. Place the octopus, potatoes and garlic cloves on top and drizzle with the olive oil. Season with salt, black pepper and paprika and take to the oven for 1 hour, until the octopus is tender and with a slightly crisp skin and the potatoes are roasted. Serve and enjoy.
Roupa velha (old clothes)
Roupa velha (old clothes)is a typical dish of Minho (region in the north of Portugal), made with leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner of cod fish, which traditionally is eaten at lunch on the 25th December. Being made with the reuse of another meal, this dish began to be associated with poorer families, where lunch was served on Christmas Day. But this concept was lost and currently was transformed in a specialty to many Portuguese families (in Portugal and abroad), it is tradition to eat roupa velha before serving the dish of meat, turkey or roast baby goat. The origin of the name of this Portuguese traditional dish is due to its appearance when served, the different ingredients engage each other, cut into pieces with a mixture of colours and flavours. Due to the fact that all the ingredients are of a good quality it makes a an exceptional recipe, full of flavour that stands out in the balance of the vegetables, black pitted olives, cod fish, potatoes’ and extra virgin olive oil. Using the remains of the Christmas eve dinner, sort the cod, the potatoes, the cabbages and the eggs. Slice the cod and cut the potatoes with the cabbage and eggs. Place a large pan on the stove and add extra virgin olive oil and three finely chopped garlic cloves and let them brown. Then add all the previously cut ingredients and let it heat up, stirring from time to time for about 6 minutes. Serve hot drizzied with extra virgin olive oil. A traditional Portuguese recipe to remember.
Cabrito assado (Roast Kid Goat)
Goat is often thought of as tough, pungent and best for long-cooked curries. That may be true of the flesh from mature beasts, but the meat of a young animal – a kid goat that's been milk-fed and then given access to outdoor grazing for a couple of months – is amazingly yielding and mild. It's good stuff. It's a bit of a cop-out to describe the flavour of goat as "a bit like lamb", but it does have a similar savour. It's leaner, though, and a bit more herby. Kid goat needs no more cooking than lamb, and is hugely versatile: it goes with everything from green beans, tomatoes and herbs (especially thyme) to the sweet-spicy flavours of curries and tagines. Oven-roasted kid is one of the most popular Christmas lunch dishes. In bygone days through out Portugal, the kid goat was traditionally roasted in a wood-fired oven, to everyone's delight. Nowadays, since this method is no longer as common, the missing flavour from the wood-fired oven is compensated for by marinating the meat in aromatic and flavoursome seasonings, consisting of garlic, bay leaf, white wine, olive oil, rosemary and French lavender, before it is put in the oven to roast. List of ingredients (serves 8-10): 3 tbsps. thyme leaves, rosemary leaves, French lavender, 4 bay leaves, 5 garlic cloves, chopped, 1 tbsp. sweet paprika, 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil. 1 (about 3 kg) kid goat, 2 kg medium size potatoes, 3 choped onions, 2 cups white wine, 3 lemons, sea salt and pepper to taste. Method of preparation: Crush well, the thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, French lavender garlic, paprika and about 1 tbsp. sea salt in a mortar. Add 4 tbsps. olive oil and mix well. Place the kid goat in a basin and cut the lemons in half, rub each half, thoroughly on to the meat after rub the previously prepared mixture all over the goat, then place in a large roasting pan. Keep in a cool place covered, overnight or in the refrigerators. A few hours before inserting in oven allow to adapt to room temperature before. Season kid goat generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 220ºC, then remove from oven. Scatter potatoes and onions around the goat and drizzle over the white wine. Reduce heat to 180ºC and roast for 1½-2 hours or until meat is tender and pulls away from the bone. Remove from oven, rest for 10 minutes, carve and serve with pan juices, potatoes and onions and salad (tomato and watercress salad is a good idea.). This is a fantastic dish.
Capão assado (Roasted Capon)
The Capão assado is a traditional dish much appreciated at Christmas in various regions of Portugal, being a good alternative to Turkey. A capon (from Latin caponem) is a cockerel or rooster that has been castrated to improve the quality of its flesh. In 1913, farmer George Beuoy published a pamphlet titled “What’s a Capon and Why.” He believed that the castrated cockerels which, without their testosterone, could plump up to anywhere from 3-4 Kgs and could change the face of the struggling poultry industry of the time. Today, the capon has nearly disappeared from view. When capons pop up in stores or on restaurant menus, most modern diners assume that they’re game birds or perhaps akin to Cornish hens. But because hormonal changes caused by caponization allow more fat to build up both below the skin and within muscle, capons come with the promise of a substantial amount of buttery, tender meat. List of ingredients (serves 8-10):1 (4-5 kg) capon, 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, 3 garlic cloves crushed, 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoon black pepper, 4 whole lemons, quartered lengthwise,1 cup port wine. For Garnish: fresh flat-leaf parsley and thyme sprigs. Method of preparation: Preheat oven to 220°C. Rinse capon inside and out and discard any excess fat from cavity. wipe capon dry and season cavity with salt and pepper. Place in a large roasting pan and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. In the meantime, stir together butter, zest, thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Turn capon so neck cavity is nearest to you. To loosen breast skin, lift neck flap and work your fingers gently between skin and flesh, being careful not to tear skin. Slide your fingers down breast and along both sides all the way to thighs. Put half of butter mixture evenly under skin of each breast, then rub outside of capon to distribute evenly. Place 6 lemon wedges in cavity of bird and tie legs together with string. Introduce capon and garlic in preheated oven at 180ºC for 3-4 hours. Basting with pan juices every 30 minutes, after 2 1/2 hours. Skim most of fat from pan, then add remaining 10 lemon wedges to pan, tossing with pan juices. Continue roasting capon, basting every 15 minutes, about 45 minutes more. Tilt capon in pan to pour out juices in cavity, then transfer capon and lemon wedges to a carving platter and let stand 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Skim fat from pan juices then place juices in a small pot, add port wine deglaze by boiling over moderately high heat, stirring every minute. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.Carve capon and serve with sauce and asorted fresh salad or baked potatoes, that can be introduced in oven after capon has been in for 2 1/2 hours. for me this meal is better than turkey, hope you enjoy.
Rabanadas do Minho ( better than French Toast)
Rabanadas are Portuguese French Toast with a twist. Rabanadas do Minho are made with a diffence by adding warm wine and honey syrup over the cooked Rabanadas for a robust sweet wine flavor. Found on most Portuguese Christmas tables.List of ingredients (serves 8): 1 large loaf of crusty bread; French, Italian or Portuguese, 1 1/3 cups of granulated sugar, 1 tbsp butter,1 stick of cinnamon, 1 lemon peel, 2 egg yolks, 2 eggs, 5 glasses of Portuguese Red wine, or Vinho Verde Red, 1 cup of Honey, 1 tsp of powdered cinnamon, 1 1/3 cup of water, vegetable Oil for frying. Method of preparation: Slice the bread into thick slices. (about 20mm), In a saucepan, heat the sugar and 1 1/3 cups of water, butter, lemon peel, cinnamon stick and a dash of salt. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Soak each slice of bread in the sugar mixture, remove and place in a strainer to remove excess liquid. Set aside.Beat the yolks and eggs until foamy. Heat the oil in 1/4 inch depth in a large skillet on medium. Dip each slice of bread into the egg mixture shaking off any excess egg.Place the bread slices in the oil and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.As each slice cooks place it on paper towels to drain and then onto a serving tray. Coat each slice with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.In a separate pan heat the wine, honey, powdered cinnamon until it comes to a boil.Gently, pour the hot wine syrup over each slice turning them over to coat each side. (If desired the wine can be omited). Serve warm or at room temperature. I normaly have them without the wine but great both ways.
Filhoses estendidas ( fried streched dough )
Filhoses are fried dough made by stretching out the risen dough into sections and then frying them in hot oil. Many families have their own recipes and carry on the traditions of making this dessert with each generation. The pastry is very popular on Christmas, New Year’s Day. The Alentejo province makes them with mashed carrot, whereas the north uses pumpkin mash to make this typical holiday treat. List of ingredients (makes 3 dz):9 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 and ½ teaspoon salt, 6 eggs, 1 stick butter or margarine (8 tbsp), 1 teaspoon lemon or orange extract or zest, 2 cups milk, ¼ cup fresh orange juice, Fry using Vegetable oil, Confectioners sugar for dusting, Cinnamon for dusting (optional): Ingredients to make the starter yeast: 3 tablespoons flour, ½ teaspoon sugar, 2 packages of dry yeast or 1 small cube yeast (0.6 oz, 17g), ½ cup warm water. Method of preparation First step: Mix the ingredients in the starter yeast and set aside until bubbles form. Method of preparation Second step: Put the milk and butter in a pan on low until butter is meltedIn a large bowl, mix eggs, salt, sugar, lemon zest, and orange juice. Beat with electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add the milk and butter and mix for 30 seconds. Add yeast mix and flour and knead well until the dough is elastic and smooth.Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Punch down the dough, cover and let it rise until doubled. In a deep fryer heat the oil to around 190ºC. Using your hands lightly greased with olive oil, strech pieces of the dough into thin strips of desired sizes of 100mm by 50mm but you can be creative on shapes of dough. it's fantastic.
Filhoses de Abóbora (Portuguese Fried Pumpkin Cakes)
Filhoses de Abóbora are Portuguese Fried Pumpkin Cakes, it doesn’t get much better than that. These are one of my favorite desserts in all of Portuguese Christmas deserts. They are a lot like malassadas, the most popular version of Portuguese fried dough, but with a unique pumpkin flavored twist. The combination of the sweet crunchy fried dough with a pumpkin scent and flavor, coated in sugar and cinnamon, makes for an unbelievable dessert. They are actually quite simple and easy to make, so go ahead and try these wonderful fried pumpkin treats for yourself. List of ingredients (makes 3 dz): 3kgs. pumpkin, 3 cups water, 1/4 cup rum, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 cups vegetal oil for frying, 2 tablespoons cinnamon powder, 2 tablespoons sugar Method of preparation: De-skin and de-seed the pumpkin. In a saucepan cook the pumpkin with the water and salt. Once the pumpkin is soft and tender, remove the pumpkin and let it strain most of its liquid. If you have a cheese cloth it is best for straining the liquid. If not use a regular strainer. This should take 3-4 hours. In a blender, add the pumpkin, rum, and sugar and blend it until it is a smooth and even consistency. Once done, pour it into a bowl and add the flour and mix it in well. Use a tablespoon and begin to knead the dough into balls for frying. If the dough does not have a strong enough consistency, add some more flour and knead it in accordingly. Pour a one inch layer of oil into a frying pan and begin frying the balls. Usually it takes about 1-2 minutes on both sides until they are golden brown. Fry them individually until they are golden brown, then set aside on paper towels to dry. Once they are all done and fried, cover the fried cakes with sugar and cinnamon.
Bolo Rei’ (‘King Cake’)
Bolo Rei, the King's Cake is a traditional Portuguese sweet bread, with nuts and crystallized (candied) fruit, eaten at
Christmas time and especially on 6 January, Kings' Day. One of the explanations for the tradition of placing a broad bean and a coin (or small trinket) in the Bolo Rei comes from a legend regarding the Three Kings as they followed the Star of Bethlehem on
their way to greet baby Jesus. The Kings could not agree amongst themselves which would be the first to give their gift to Jesus. On their travels they met a baker who gave them a loaf of bread with a broad bean hidden inside it. He told them that the one
who ended up with the slice of bread with the bean should give baby Jesus the present first and they accepted this idea as a means of resolving their dispute. Therefore, the Portuguese place a broad bean in the King's Cake around Christmas time. At family
gatherings, especially on 6 January, whoever ends up with the bean, is expected to buy the Bolo Rei for the following year.This can be seem as unlucky really, so the trinket is there to balance the situation - whoever wins the coin or trinket is said to be
blessed with good luck. This recipe is not difficult to make but it is very time consuming, so today I sugest that its better to buy one, it can be found in all bakeries and super markets. When it is a few days old, slices of Bolo Rei are excellent toasted
with a little butter for breakfast or tea time.
Every house has a "rich table" set
While we’re on the subject of tradition, why not go back in time with me and revisit the Christmas tables of typical Portuguese families, especially those from the North?Even through the passage of years we all know there are some traditions that still remain. Various types of dried fruit spread out all over the tables is just one example.Almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, dried grapes, figs, dates and different types of crystallized fruits, used to always be seen on the Christmas table. White table cloths, red candles, tableware and cutlery, which often only came out for this one special occasion of the year. Pinecones and sparkling lights also adorned the Christmas table of traditional families all across Portugal. Wherever we look at the moment, the word “Christmas” keeps constantly popping up. And that’s absolutely fine, as long as we remember that Christmas is a tradition with more than a millennium of history and a great deal of meaning, and is much more than just a business.Families come together and have Christmas Day lunch together….moments to keep in our hearts.
Christmas is about spending time with family and friends. It’s about creating happy memories that will last a lifetime. I want to wish you and your respective families A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.