A Portuguese catch up

with Lesley Williams

Simon and I recently had a short break in the Algarve to meet up with regular contributor to TheBAY, Tatiana Bento of the Marmalade Cookery School

A Portuguese catch up

with Lesley Williams

Photos by Dave Mattu

Regular readers will be familiar with the name Tatiana Bento of the Marmalade Cookery School. Tatiana has been a contributor to TheBAY for a number of years, supplying us with recipes each month. What you might not be aware of is that for the past year, Tatiana has been communicating solely by email as she is now based in Olhão in the Algarve, Portugal.

Our prime reason for visiting Tatiana and David (Tatiana’s partner) was to catch up, eat well and soak up some sunshine, all of which we achieved magnificently.

The catching up was easy, as it always is with good friends. The eating well was equally simple, as the market in Olhão sells a huge range of locally sourced, fruit and vegetables along with fish and seafood that you are unlikely to ever find in the UK.

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The Market at Olhao

Olhao market, where you can buy everything including flowers and finches, along with vegetables and fruit, a sight rarely seen in the UK. It isn’t just a shopping experience but a social occasion.

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The Marmalade House

Tatiana and David have invested in a traditional Algarve town house in Olhão, a 30 minute drive from the airport at Faro, and have named it The Marmalade House. Getting to Faro from Swansea is very simple and if you shop wisely, very affordable. I booked our tickets through Ryan Air to fly from Bristol Airport, and paid less than £175 for return tickets with the luxury of extra leg room. As we were only staying for 4 days, hand baggage was sufficient.

The Marmalade House is now available as a holiday let and Simon and I were invited to test-drive it ahead of regular paying guests.

The house is set in a quiet cobbled street which has no vehicular access. This is not a problem as parking is available free of charge at the end of the road. As is traditional in houses of this age in the Algarve, the bedroom is on the ground floor along with the bath-room. Both are simply decorated but have architect-urally stunning vaulted ceilings made of terracotta bricks.

On the first floor is the sitting room with day bed and LED television – although we didn’t ever feel the need to switch it on. The kitchen area is small but perfectly functional and comes complete with oven and electric hob, fridge/freezer, Nespresso coffee machine complete with pods and enough pots, pans and bake-ware to satisfy a keen cook. Our hosts even provide a welcome basket filled with local delicacies including two bottles of wine!

The roof terrace has a built-in barbeque and two reclining sun chairs and is the perfect spot for sun-downers.

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The Island of Farol

The island of Farol is easily reached by ferry from Olhão. For just a few euros and a 45 minute boat ride you will find long beaches where the Mediterranean Sea rolls over the white sand. Take a picnic or sit at one of the beach bars and enjoy a toasted sandwich.

A traditional Portuguese beach food is the unlikely named Bola de Berlim or Berlin Ball, which is simply a donut by another name. The Bola de Berlim seller strolls up and down the beach all day serving these sticky snacks which are either served plain or filled with a not too sweet custard.

The island has a couple of informal restaurants which serve, unsurprisingly, excellent freshly caught fish.

We had just four days in which to relax and unwind in Olhão, but with a longer stay you would be able to explore the surrounding area which is very beautiful – not only the beaches but the city of Faro and the smaller towns. There are great shopping opportunities too with the many artisan potteries producing decorative and functional platters and bowls at a fraction of the price that you would pay in the UK. I would also recommend that you bring back vacuum packed chorizo and ham from Iberian pigs which are prized in both Spain and Portugal and keep for many months under refrigeration. Tins of sardine pate, and bacalhau also make great presents to take home as Sarla Langdon (see food and drink section – Culinary Causerie with SarlaLangdon) will testify.

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Home Cooking

Although we were there for rest and relaxation, we wanted to take advantage of the purpose built barbeque on the roof terrace, and headed to the market to buy some of my favourite fish, tuna belly and prawns. Tuna belly is the strip of flesh that runs along the bottom of the tuna and rarely makes it to the export market as it is in limited supply. You may be lucky enough to find it in tins in good delicatessens such as Chai (Mumbles) and Wrights Emporium (Llanarthne).

Tatiana marinated the prawns in a piri piri dressing and cooked them over the hot coals. The tuna was simply grilled until just cooked through and served with grilled pepper salad and bread. It’s a simple way to cook but very effective as it gives the fish a slightly charred finish.

HOW TO CHOOSE, DE-VEIN AND BUTTERFLY YOUR PRAWNS

Choosing:

When it comes to prawns, quality makes all the difference so it’s important to choose the right ones, and it all depends on what you are using them for:

#1: If you are adding plenty of sauce to your prawns, as for a curry then size and firmness of the meat will be less noticeable. In those cases you can go for responsibly-sourced farmed prawns. Feel free to go for peeled prawns, but be aware that they will have less flavour than the shell-on prawns. Fresh or frozen are both fine. These will be cheaper than the wild ones and go perfectly well in a curry-type dish.

#2: However if you are simply grilling you will want the meat and flavour to be the best you can get, as you will be serving them with minimal cooking. In this case go for bigger prawns, like a 20/30 or above (prawns are categorized per number of prawns in each kilo), shell and heads on and wild-caught. The meat will be firmer and taste fresher which is important in simpler recipes.

Deveining:

Right, this is where a lot of confusion starts. Most people will take the heads and shells off at this point. What I can tell you on the subject is, please feel free to take them off, but I will do my best to convince you otherwise. The reason why I don’t take the heads off is simply because most of the flavour is in the heads and I would hate to lose it. The reason I don’t take the shells off is because when you do so, you tend to overcook your prawns producing a dry prawn instead of a juicy prawn.

How to devein your prawns:

#1: Place your prawns flat on their side on a chopping board and bend them into a circle as tight as you can so their back is on the outside and their legs are on the inside.

#2: Grab a sharp long knife and run it along the prawns back, from the tail to the head, making a parallel cut to your chopping board. Make sure to be gentle with your cutting as you don’t want to separate your prawns into two.

#3: Now that you have made the cut along the prawn’s back you can slightly open the cut and look for the little black vein that runs down their backs. Grab it with two fingers and pull it out.

Butterflying:

Butterflying your prawns insures that the ‘piri-piri’ oil will get right in there and the prawn will grill evenly, so it’s well worth doing it.

Simply open the cut, de-veined prawn on your chopping board, cut side down and slightly press to flatten and open the cut up and it’s done…. simple.

PIRI-PIRI PRAWNS

SERVES 4

Ingredients for the Piri-Piri Oil:

50ml of olive oil

1/2 lemon

2 or 3 Piri-Piri chillies (or a few more if you like it hot)

3 cloves of garlic

1 Bay Leaf

Dried oregano

How to make:

The first thing to make is your piri-piri sauce as it should rest for at least 24h.

Tip #1: I’ve given you the quantities necessary for this recipe but to be honest I normally make a big batch of it and then keep it in a jar in my pantry as I use it so much. If you decide to make a big batch, just multiply the quantities and when you are done put into sterilized jars. It will keep well for at least 6 months.

Now grab a pestle and mortar and place the garlic and the chillies in there and give them a good bash. Mix all the remaining ingredients. Leave the sauce to mature for at least 24 hours, trust me it will pay off.

Ingredients for the Prawns:

600g of wild prawns, size 20/30 or bigger, de-veined and butterflied, from a sustainable source if possible

Sea salt

How to make:

When it’s time to make your prawns place them in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Add the piri-piri sauce and give it a stir. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes while you start your BBQ.

Tip #2: Ideally you would cook them on the BBQ over some nice hot coals but if that is not an option get a heavy bottom frying pan and put it on a high heat. Once it is smoking hot, grill your prawns.

By now your coals should be nice and hot so get your grill and place the prawns cut side down and open over the coals. As soon as the translucent flesh underneath changes to white, turn your prawns over, brush with a little more piri-piri oil and grill until the shells are pink and very slightly char grilled.

Tip #3: Cooking times depend hugely on your heat and size of your prawns so it’s impossible to say. What I can tell you is that it’s crucial not to overcook prawns as they will go dry and stick to their shells. The trick is to keep a close eye on them and as soon as the flesh changes from translucent to white they are done. Overall it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes on each side.

Once ready and nicely grilled move them on to a plate and serve sprinkled with lemon and a bit more Piri-Piri oil on the side for those that like it hot.

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Eating Out–Fish food

Eating out in Portugal is very reasonable. We lunched with the locals at Vai e Volta, a simple fish restaurant. For just 8.50 Euros I ate what appeared to be my own bodyweight in a selection of sardines, mackerel, horse mackerel and scabbard fish. This was served with boiled potatoes, salad and a traditional Algarve dish similar to a warm bread sauce. The fish is grilled on a huge open fire and served on platters which just keep on coming until you say whoa! With a bottle of wine and coffee our bill for four came to 44 Euros – the bill was written on the paper tablecloth which would make it a little difficult to submit to HMRC.

Chicken piri piri is the speciality dish of a town called Guia in the Algarve. Piri piri is traditionally made from piri piri peppers which originated in South Africa and were imported to Portugal from the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. Piri piri or peri peri is the Swahili word for the fiery bird’s eye chilli pepper that is used to make this versatile sauce which is used in many Portuguese recipes.

Tatiana took us to one that is considered to be the best. At 9 in the evening it was packed with locals young and old all tucking into little pieces of chicken, grilled in a fiery chilli sauce.

Tapas is probably more associated with Spanish cuisine, but the trend seems to have crossed the border into Portugal. Tapas e Lendas – which is just around the corner from The Marmalade House – has gained a reputation locally for being the best place to eat little dishes of imaginative food. As it was our last night we were happy to sit and graze on a succession of small dishes whilst enjoying some of Portugal’s best young wine.

In the market we had seen cuttle-fish of all shapes and sizes, from some so tiny that they didn’t look as though they should have been separated from their mothers, to those of Leviathan proportions. Here we were served a cuttle fish dish that was as tender as butter and equally rich.

The staff were all incredibly friendly and helpful especially the chef/patron who happily posed for a photograph and encouraged our fellow diners to join in a toast.

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Portuguese cookery lesson

Tatiana and David invite any reader of TheBAY to come and stay in The Marmalade House in Olhão. To book and for prices and further details, visit Booking.com and search for The Marmalade House. If you would like to have an accompanied visit to the market, followed by a cookery lesson, they will be happy to arrange that for you.

The Marmalade House will only sleep a maximum of 3 people. If you have a larger party we can highly recommend Sunlight House in Faro where you can choose from en-suite rooms to bunk houses.

Fact File:

Fly from Bristol Airport www.bristolairport.co.uk  www.Ryanair.com

The Marmalade House www.booking.com/hotel/pt/the-marmalade-house.en-gb.html

The Sunlight House www.booking.com/hotel/pt/sunlight-house.html

Vai e Volta, Largo de Gremio2, Olhão 8700-303 Portugal

Tapas e Lendas, rua Dr Manuel Arriaga Nr 18, Olhão, Portugal

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