Christmas is a time for family and friends, solidarity and food. Yes, food! Portugal Christmas table is very rich and during the Holidays there are delicacies at each house that are like treasures that pass from generation to generation.
Are you ready to resist to a Portuguese Christmas menu?!
From north to south, mainland to the islands, there are mandatory recipes in every single house.
Cod-fish, bolo-rei, rabanadas, pão-de-ló, and aletria. Memorize these names. Write them down. If you’re in Portugal, get ready to try all of them!
Codfish for all
Christmas Eve dinner has, usually, one item on the Portugal Christmas table: boiled codfish with boiled potatoes, onions, carrots, kale, and eggs. Seasoned with olive oil, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. Sounds simple and not very interesting, we know. But this is our main course in Portugal. The secret lies in the quality of the codfish.
As you might already know we buy salted codfish. Nowadays it’s easier to find fresh codfish at the fish market but most people tend to resist it. Knowing how to prepare salted codfish is almost part of our education!
Salted codfish has to be soaked in water for a couple of days (or more) before you can cook it. The water has to be changed daily so that you have fresh water and the extra salt is ‘washed’ from the codfish. With the water, the codfish will be rehydrated and the slices will ‘inflate’. Then, you can cook it.
Sounds easy. After all, we’re talking about boiling codfish and potatoes, other vegetables and eggs. It’s harder than you think! Not the boiling process, of course. The hardest tasks are choosing the right codfish and soaking it to the perfect point.
Though codfish is to some point considered the official Portuguese ingredient, some people don’t like it. Oh, the horror! What do these people eat on Christmas Eve? Octopus. Baked octopus.
Christmas desserts. The most complete and never-ending menu you can imagine! At least a handful of items is mandatory in each home.
This can be translated into “King Cake”. Not only because it is a Christmas bestseller, or because it resembles a crown but because legend has it represents the three wise men and the presents they took to Jesus: gold, myrrh, and incense. The crust represents the gold, the comfit fruits represent the myrrh and the dough scent represents the incense.
Bolo-rei is made from a soft white dough mixed with raisins, candied fruits and a variety of nuts. It is round shaped with a hole in the center. It is decorated with crystallized fruits and powdered sugar.
Surely you’ve heard of french toast. Rabanadas are an upgrade on french toast. Yes, it’s a fried slice of bread. But after frying them, you dip them in a mix of sugar and cinnamon. That’s the simplest recipe.
Bread, milk, eggs, lemon, cinnamon. These are the base ingredients. Oil for the frying. Then, you can either use the traditional technique or you can soak the toast in a mix of water, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon.
There are some recipes that also add Port Wine and raisins to the mix. Try them. They are absolutely delicious!
Pão-de-ló is a sort of sponge cake. The dough is smooth, yellow – from the eggs – and sweet. Not too sweet! It is also very famous for Easter. What is this sponge cake made of? Eggs, sugar, and flour. Couldn’t be simpler! The secret lies in the number of eggs and how long you beat and cook the dough.
Let us share a secret with you: cut a slice of pão-de-ló and a slice of mountain cheese (‘queijo da Serra’). Put one on top of the other. Take a bite. Close your eyes and enjoy the flavors. Repeat!
Pasta, eggs, milk, sugar, lemon, and cinnamon. Yes, sweet pasta. Very sweet. Does vermicelli ring a bell? That’s the kind of pasta we use to make aletria.
Cook the pasta in milk; add the lemon peel, sugar, and butter. Leave to a boil and add more milk if necessary. Get it out of the stove and mix the egg yolks – previously mixed – stir and put back on the stove until it gets thicker but do not let it boil – or you’ll overcook the eggs. Pour into a plate, take out the lemon peel and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Let’s say it’s similar to creme brulee with vermicelli. Actually, it’s better. Depending on the region, it can be thick and you can slice it with a knife or it’s creamier and you have to serve it with a spoon.