January 1998

Armaçao da Pera, Portugal January 1, 1998 Happy New Year! The opportunity to snatch up super-cheap flights to the Algarve for some sorely needed winter sun was too good to miss, so we headed out to Vilalara for a week with our friends John, Jane and Catherine Spree. The weather has been beautiful -- warm, with sunny spells -- and perfect for touring: a trip up Monchique to eat mountain-cured presunto and barbequed piri piri chicken, and inland to Silves to feast on shellfish -- crab, crawfish, clams and oysters -- and arroz de mariscos -- seafood rice, a rich medley spiced lightly with piri piri and cilantro at our favourite marisqueria or shellfish bar, Rui, which in summer is usually too heaving and packed to get a table without a very long wait.
For us, however, nothing beats a meal at Serol, a wholly local and unadorned restaurant on the seafront of Armaçao da Pera, the colourful fishing boats winched up the long beach in front. We've been coming here for years and love the bustle in summer, the friendly professionalism of the waiters, and the outstanding local foods, most notably amêijoas na cataplana, clams cooked Algarve style in the cataplana, a dome-shaped primitive copper pressure cooker. As this attractive vessel is opened at the table, the aromas of smoked presunto, seafresh clams, tomatoes, peppers, piri piri, and cilantro are sensational, for us the true taste of the Algarve, the juices to be mopped up with chewy sourdough bread, the whole feast washed down with a zesty and quaffable vinho verde such as Quinta da Aveleda.
The piri piri chillies in this recipe, incidentally, are strictly optional. These little red devils, introduced into the country from former Portuguese Angola and used extensively in the cuisine of the Algarve, are outrageously hot, but they are used most always with discretion, more to give flavour rather than to blow your head off. None the less, accidents do happen, as for example, when I was fishing around in the cataplana towards the end of a memorable meal at Serol and insouciantly -- and innocently, I swear I was not trying to show off -- popped one into my mouth whole. Now I love hot, and even very hot foods, but it was not just the intensity but also the sheer, dogged got-you-by-the-throat-and-won't-let-go persistence that did me in, reduced me wholly to a pathetic state of sweating, drivelling, water-guzzling helplessness. Sad, isn't it.

Amêijoas na Cataplana

Clams Algarve Style

1.5 kg/ 3 lbs clams (substitute fresh, soaked cockles or mussels if clams are not available)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil1 large onion, peeled and sliced

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

4 thick slices of smoked, air-cured presunto (substitute Italian speck or other smoked ham)

1 chorizo, cubed

Half a cup of dry white wine

5 fresh tomatoes (or 1 large tin)

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

1-2 piri piri chillies (or to taste -- you have been warned), seeded and sliced

Handful of coarsely chopped cilantro

Salt and black pepper

Wash clams, cockles or mussels thoroughly under running water, leave to soak in lightly salted water, changing occasionally. Discard any that are open and which do not close when tapped.
Heat the olive oil in a cataplana or heavy-bottomed casserole. Gently fry onions and garlic until soft and golden. Add the ham and chorizo and brown. Add the dry white wine, tomatoes, pepper and chilli, and coriander and cook to make a reduced sauce. Season with salt and black pepper, then add the clams (or other shellfish), seal the cataplana if using, and cook briskly for a further 5-10 minutes or until the clams have all opened. Bring the cataplana to the table and serve at once.

Wine Suggestion: Serve with a good, dry vinho verde such as Quinta da Aveleda, Casal Garcia, or a mono-varietal such as the rare (and expensive) Alvarinho or examples from less well known single grapes such Loureiro or Trajedura.


Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2000