When our illustrious editor asked me to participate in an interactive cooking demonstration and wine tasting session, I figured it was a mistake. I thought I would be lucky if I came out of this without chopping off a finger, and my amateur status would be immediately discovered… busted! Well, not only did I come away with all ten digits, but I had one of the most delightful NYC adventures I have ever inadvertently encountered.
The recipe was perfect, you can make things as complicated as you like, but keep in mind when organizing a food pairing event that sometimes less is more. You can make things as complicated as you like, but when presented with good food, good wine, good company, why elongate? All the stars are already aligned for a lovely experience.
So like Portugal’s own Vasco da Gama, I set out on my own unique voyage of discovery down on Crosby Street at the impressive International Culinary Center. We dressed in white aprons and chef’s hat, I immediately felt like Giada DeLaurentis, and we were all set to prepare, sample, taste and enjoy working in a professional kitchen. A lovely table was set in which to enjoy the fruits of our labors. My partner was Thea, who surely knows her way around the kitchen, and is the most patient person on our planet!
This was an afternoon of “pairings’ i.e. selecting the perfect Portuguese wine to accompany a flavorful Portuguese lunch menu.
We were instructed and ably led into preparation for two original Portuguese lunch dishes by the skilled Chef Miguel Vaz from the Herdade do Esporao located in Alentejo, a prodigious grape growing region in Southern Portugal, producing extremely affordable, flavorful Portuguese wines. The Northern region of Douro presents another area for fine, robust Portuguese wines and we were fortunate to sample dry table wines from both Alentejo and Douro-reds and whites-produced by Herdade do Esporao, a perfect starting point for Portuguese wine and food.
Herdade do Esporao is the largest privately held wine company in Portugal, and their glorious wines and olive oils are indicative of a refined, elegant yet earthy and tasty cuisine. These are affordable ($10 to $20), hardy, delicious wines – I personally favored “Esporao Private Selection 2007” – a full bodied red with the slight, subtle oak flavor of the cask – but all had the strength deserving of a good meal. The grapes of Portugal are surely sun-kissed and well served by these delightful wines.
All these Esporao wines are distributed by Aidil Distributors to both restaurants and wine shelves. The whites were delicate yet hearty, but again I admit to a preference for the reds, and also suggest the 2009 “Assobio.” In Portuguese, this translates as “to whistle” for this area of Douro is particularly windy, thereby producing a hearty grape leading to a rich wine with a fine finish.
The Portuguese approach to meals and menus is pragmatic and cheerfully practical. All things have a use, and everything is used. As Chef Miguel explained, it’s the “Stone Soup” theory. Recall this fable? And so Chef Miguel left no stone unturned as he is so clever, he would probably find a way to use lawn grass as an ingredient! Something comes from nothing, and before you finish stirring, you have fed an Iberian village.
Our first dish was “Seared Bacalhau” – a codfish that is seasoned (garlic is a necessity in Portuguese cooking) then pan-roasted and served with kale – a staple vegetable in the Portuguese diet – and complimented by “smashed” potatoes. “Kale” is an essential, abundant vegetable indigenous of Portugal. As was half-jokingly explained to me, should you see someone growing kale on their property, you can safely assume they are Portuguese. We sampled, then employed several olive oils also produced by Herdade Do Esporao – solely extra virgin – some with a bit of a spicy hint, and some with a subtle, mellow taste. I especially appreciated the “Seleccao EVOO” as famously abbreviated by Rachael Ray.
All Esparao EVOOs are pure and create a lovely aroma while cooking. Chef Miguel uses EVERYTHING, and EVERYTHING he uses in his recipes is explored, researched, sampled and scrutinized before becoming a listed ingredient.
Our second dish was “Pork with Migas.” This is compact delicious tasting pork, far more flavorful then what I usually purchase from my local supermarket frozen section! Miguel suggests organic pork but note that the pig in Portugal is acorn fed, creating a unique, special depth of flavor to their pork. “ Migas” are a bread puree, flavored with pan drippings from meat and sausage…wonderful! Add a touch of coriander, crushed garlic, then top with crispy chourico, so tasty. “Migas” makes a perfect accompaniment to the flavor packed pork which was seared, then baked. Personally, I think it can work with a roasted chicken equally as well. See, I am talking like a real cook now! Again, fabulous Esparao EVOO contributed to all our prepared dishes.
Adam knowingly and knowledgably discusses the great wines of Esporaro in UsedYorkCity in his article on Aldea, a restaurant located on West 17th Street. Wonderful Portuguese cuisine as well as other dishes are served there alongside a nice selection of the wonderful wines of Esporaro.
I sincerely thank Benson Marketing for an eye opening and mouth watering experience in every possible way. I thought a second viewing of “Julie and Julia” would be the closest I would ever come to a cooking class! My gratitude for a lovely afternoon, and I especially thank Jade, Chef Miguel’s assistant, and the warm, gracious ladies specifically representing the amazing wines of Esporao. Needless to say, my compliments to the chef!
Food is our common denominator, our great leveler. Discovering a new regional cuisine such as that belonging to Portugal, from the vantage point of the best they have to offer – Herdade do Esporaro – and then exploring first hand Portuguese flavors, wines, ingredients and techniques is most likely an experience I will never be able to duplicate. Just when you thought there were no more “firsts” left in life. Seek out the wines and tastes and olive oils of Portugal, they are unique, healthy and indicative of our global brave new world.
Contributed by Joanne Theodorou