It is easy to dismiss the country on the western flank of the Iberian Peninsula. Ask someone where Portugal is, and they are likely to point to Puerto Rico. Portugal is a small country and an afterthought in most people’s minds. Friends ask me whether Portugal is a province of Spain. I shake my head in disbelief and school them on geography and European history. If it wasn’t for Portugal Columbus would never have “discovered” America since he studied at the Sagres Naval Academy well before he travelled on three small ships across the Atlantic. We have contributed much to the world and it is important to point this out. The same goes for our contribution to culinary history. Portugal “discovered” almost three quarters of the known world and began the spice trade. We brought cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, and turmeric to Europe. Many of the world’s dishes and ways of preparing food has its origins in Portugal and Feijoada (bean stew) is one of them. Cooking with beans was a Roman tradition. Rome was successful because it built and established roads from which to supply their army. Those roads eventually became land trade routes between cities. One of the supplies they moved to the front of their military campaigns was dried beans. Dried beans travel well and require minimal preparation. Boil them in water, add some animal protein and salt and you have a well-fed soldier ready for battle. Those dried beans if planted create more beans and the legume caught on everywhere in the Roman empire. The Portuguese in the Minho province elevated this simple legume to new heights when they prepared it off cuts of meat such as pig’s feet, fat back, sausage, tripe, and beef trimmings. The dish became popular all over the Portuguese empire in places like Macau, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Goa, India and Brazil. Each of these locations added their own unique local take on the stew but the origin was Portuguese. To this day feijoada is the national dish of Brazil. The recipe also made its way throughout Europe and became classic continental dishes such as the French cassoulet, the Milanese cassoeula from Lombardy, Italy, the Romanian fasole cu cârnați, the fabada asturiana from Northwestern Spain, Spanish cocido madrileño, olla podrida, and the Polish tsholem and golonka. (Source: Wikipedia). The recipe therefore lends itself well to adaptation because as its base is a refogado (sauté of onions, garlic, vegetables and tomato) followed by the addition of beans and a rich broth of meat or seafood. Eventually the coastal regions of Portugal transformed the dish by removing almost all the meat, replacing it with seafood. Feijoada de marisco can be made with just about any seafood that you have as long as it won’t fall apart while cooking. In my recipe I use octopus, shrimp, clams and imitation lobster but you can add or omit any of those.
- 16 Oz Dry white beans (any variety you like)
- ¼ up Portuguese Olive oil
- 2 medium onions diced (reserve the peel for the octopus broth)
- 3 bay leaves (1 for the octopus broth and 2 for the feijoada)
- 3 carrots diced
- 5 garlic cloves chopped
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 medium chourico (Portuguese sausage) cut into ½ inch slices
- ½ lb smoked toucinho cut into ½ inch pieces (you can use thick cut bacon if you cannot find toucinho)
- 1.5 cans of petite diced tomato
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 dozen small clams
- 1 large or 2 small frozen octopus
- 2 lbs shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 lb chunck style imitation chunk lobster meat
- 1 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro (optional)
- The night before making the feijoada place the beans in a bowl and fill it with water and let sit overnight. The next day pour the beans and water into a pot and boil them until they are al-dente. You don’t want to cook them all the way through just enough so that when you pierce one with a fork it penetrates the bean with some resistance. Drain the beans and set aside. You can reserve the bean broth for making soup.
- Fill a big pot halfway with water and add the onion peels and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, add the octopus and cook for 1 hour. Remove octopus and set aside. Drain the broth through a colander and reserve the broth. When the octopus is cool cut it up into 1-inch pieces being careful to remove the pincer from its mouth. The pincer is found at the central point where all the tentacles meet.
- In a large wide pot heat the olive and sauté the onion, carrots and garlic with the 2 remaining bay leaves, salt, pepper and the crushed red pepper until the onions begin to turn yellow. Add the chourico and toucinho and cook for about 5 minutes until the meat begins to release its juices. Add the petite diced tomato and wine and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Add the beans and enough octopus broth so that the liquid is 2 inches above the beans. Cover and cook until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Check the liquid content of the mixture and if it looks dry add more octopus broth. Add the clams, cover the pot and cook until the clams open which should take about 10 minutes. Check the liquid level again and add more octopus broth if it looks dry to you. Add the octopus, shrimp and imitation lobster. Cover and cook until the shrimp turn color. If using parsley or cilantro sprinkle it in at the end and stir. Serve with white rice.