A bit of Portugal in Thailand


Before you think I'm going out on a limb here, take a look at the above and tell me it doesn't look like a perfectly ordinary Thai meal!

There's actually quite a bit in common between Portuguese and Thai cooking. It was actually the Portuguese who introduced chilies (and many other ingredients) to Thailand in the 16th century. And although they didn't take to searingly hot food as much as the Thais did, both countries share a deep love for seafood, chicken, grilled foods and sweets, as you'll see below. Now if only they'd introduced vinho verde, good cheese and olive oil...

Regardless, I've been thinking a lot about Portuguese food lately. I like the emphasis on seafood and bread, and had recently gotten hold of a nice bottle of Portuguese olive oil that I wanted to put to good use. I had also come across several interesting-looking Portuguese recipes as of late, so I decided to put together a Portuguese meal using ingredients I could easily get here in Bangkok. Two dishes that immediately came to mind were frango no churrasco, Portuguese-style grilled chicken, and piri piri, the ubiquitous chili-based dipping sauce.

The two recipes below were taken and adapted from the Portugal volume of Lonely Planet's excellent World Food series. I have several of their World Food books, and find them an excellent introduction to the food of several different countries.

Frango no Churrasco (Char-grilled Chicken)


2 large cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried hot chili flakes
1/2 salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium free range chicken

1. Crush the garlic and mix with the chili, salt and oil. Set aside.

2. Remove and discard the chicken's neck and giblets. Wash the chicken in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the chicken breast-side-up on a chopping board and, using a large sharp knife, cut down the middle riht through to the board and all the way up to the neck. Open the chicken out and press it flat. Rub the flavoured oil all over both sides of the chicken. Cover and refrigerate to marinate overnight (or at least for a few hours) to allow the flavours the develop.

3. Prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire with a grill rack about 15cm above the coals. When the coals are white, lay the chicken on the grill with the skin side up and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, then turn the chicken over and grill the other side for a further 12 minutes or so, or until the chicken is browned. Remove and 'rest' the chicken in a warm spot, uncovered, for 10 minutes -- resting ensures the juices stay in the mean when it is cut.

Piri Piri (Red Hot Chili Pepper Sauce)

1/2 cup small dried chilies
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until combined. Put in a jar with a tight lid and leave in the fridge for a week.

The natural accompaniment to frango no churrasco and piri piri is batatas fritas, deep-fried potatoes. Despite this, I've always been intimidated by boiling oil, and my previous attempts at deep-frying were pretty abysmal. However I recently became interested in giving this style of cooking a second chance after reading the chapter called "Fries" in Jeffrey Steingarten's excellent book, The Man Who Ate Everything. In this book he gives a recipe (attributed to French master chef, Joel Robuchon) for frites that is so simple, it almost seems like he's playing a joke on us. I've adapted the recipe slightly, as I use a cold-pressed sunflower oil that's excellent for deep-frying (Steingarten suggests peanut oil--something unavailable in Thailand), and unless you're cooking for many people, I feel that measurements are superfluous.

Easy Frites


sunflower oil, at room temperature

1. Wash and peel the potatoes (if desired), and cut them into the shape of your choice, keeping in mind that they will shrink when fried. Wash them briefly under cold water and dry with a cloth. Put them into a pan about 10 inches in diameter with sides at least 4 inches high. Just cover the potatoes with the oil.

2. Place the pan over the highest heat. The oil will begin to bubble, first softly and then furiously. Using long tongs, stir the potatoes to ensure that they cook evenly and that they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. By the time the oil reaches 350 degrees F., about 15 minutes, the potatoes will be a deep golden brown and should be ready to eat (Make sure that the oil temperature never exceeds 370 degrees F.).

3. Taste one or two. Drain and blot with paper towels. Salt the frites just before serving.

At this point, I already had some bubbling oil, and also happened to have a small bag of green beans, so I decided to try a recipe I'd come across in the fun section of Portuguese recipes at the excellent Leite's Culinaria. The dish below is called peixinhos da horta, which according to Leite's, is Portuguese for "little fish from the garden", as the dish resembles deep-fried fish that are popular in Portugal.

Peixinhos da Horta (Deep-Fried Green Beans)


1/2 pound green beans
oil for frying
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, cool in a bowl of ice water, and drain again.

2. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large saucepan over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Combine the flour, water, eggs, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl; whisk until a smooth batter forms.

3. Dip six beans at a time into the batter, shaking off any excess. Add the beans to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes per batch. Using tongs, transfer the beans to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with more salt and serve hot.

Although I've heard that the Portuguese aren't too big on fresh greens, I also included a salad:


The dressing for this (as well as the marinade for the chicken) was made with an excellent Portuguese olive oil I was able to find here in Bangkok, Herdade do Esporão Virgem Extra D.O.P. This is significantly cheaper than the high-end Italian oils available here in Bangkok, but was still very nice, with a slightly spicy flavour, perfect for my:

Portuguese-Style Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 pinches salt
good quality Portuguese extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic

Put the apple cider vinegar in a deep heavy plastic or ceramic bowl. Add salt and using a whisk, mix until salt is dissolved. Add olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. After having added about 3 Tbsps of olive oil, taste the dressing. Stop here if it tastes good to you, or continue adding more olive oil until you reach a taste that you like. Split the garlic clove and add to the dressing. Let the vinaigrette "season" at room temperature for at least an hour.

And finally, there was dessert:


The treats above were brought at Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok, and are the kind of traditional Thai desserts that one could find almost anywhere in the country--a seemingly un-Portuguese end to our meal. Actually though, the practice of making desserts out of egg yolks and sugar was originally introduced to the Thais by--you guessed it--the Portuguese. In the foreground are foy thong, "golden threads" (fios de ovos in Portuguese) and behind these, thong yip, "pinched gold", named for their colour and the way they're formed. For more on the Portuguese influence on Thai food, check out this piece I wrote for ThaiDay several months ago.

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