We're exploring Portugal through our tastebuds with an expert guide, chef George Mendes. Mendes is a first generation American, born to Portuguese parents. In 2009, Mendes opened the critically acclaimed Michelin-starred Aldea in New York City, where he serves up Spanish and Mediterranean dishes inspired by his life in the states and abroad. Here, Mendes shares a few recipes from his cookbook, My Portugal: Recipes and Stories. The book is a combination of the restaurant's best selling dishes and classic Portuguese dishes with lovely commentary from Mendes. Here, get to know some of these bites as you head into your kitchen and take a delicious trip through Portugal with us.
This Seafood Rice is infused with the classic flavors of Portugal thanks to the use of refogado (a type of sofrito) and vinho verde with a bounty of seafood: shrimp, lobster, mussels, clams, more. "I had the best version of this classic at Cervejaria da Esquina in Lisbon," Mendes said. "There, the chef served the fragrant rice and seafood in enough broth to make the mixture resemble a stew. I’ve kept the sauciness, but thickened it to make the dish taste even richer. In addition to cooking the rice to just the right point—a little past al dente—I cook each type of seafood separately to optimize their textures. When everything is combined at the end, all the flavors meld together into a bowl of elevated comfort."
This dish will no doubt remind you of a tortilla with layers of egg and potato. But this dish also has chunks of salty flaked cod and olives, making it tangier and livelier. However, it still retains that hearty, homecooked feel. "When I developed this recipe for the book, I couldn’t stop digging into the Dutch oven and downing it by the forkful," Mendes said. "I stuck to tradition here because you can’t beat the delicious, comforting classic mix of sweet onions and potatoes with savory salt cod and olives pressed into a homey casserole."
This recipe packs a punch of shrimp flavor with a concentrated shrimp broth spooned over simply seared succulent shrimp. It's impressive and light and worth the extra steps. "Aside from being a masterful carpenter and stone-wall builder, my dad makes a mean shrimp alhinho," Mendes said. "At Aldea, we take his go-to dish one step further by making an intense sauce with the shrimp heads. Even now, well into retirement, he cooks his version with his cane in one hand while he stirs with the other. If that isn’t badass, I don’t know what is."
This egg dish has not one, not two, but three pork preparations mixed in: bacon, chorizo, and linguica. It's smokey and hearty with just a touch of sweetness from peas and indulgent with runny golden eggs on top. Serve it with bread to sop up that goodness, then take a nap. "All the porkiness here—it’s as Portuguese as you’re gonna get," Mendes said. "To add a little freshness to the original, I finish the dish with parsley and lemon. It’s still hearty enough to make this the sort of warming dish I want to eat in a Vermont cabin after skiing."
Clams Steamed with Vinho Verde, Garlic, and Cilantro is a classic Portuguese dish full of fresh and bright flavor making it perfect as an appetizer to share or as a light main course with lots of crusty bread. And though they seem fancy, they're a quick and easy summer meal. "A classic throughout Portugal, this is named for Bulhão Pato, a food-loving nineteenth-century Portuguese poet," Mendes said. "No one really remembers his writing, but his namesake dish is legendary. It’s the pure essence of the ocean here. This dish is so simple and delicious, I could eat it every day. Once I finish the clams, I like to spoon the sauce with the garlic and cilantro onto hunks of good crusty buttered and toasted bread."
This dish is perhaps one best known outside of Portugal. They are a classic dessert with smooth egg custard and a dusting of cinnamon tucked into buttery layers of puff pastry. "This is, hands down, my favorite Portuguese dessert," Mendes said. "The key to making them at home is getting your oven as hot as you can. If it still isn’t hot enough to caramelize the tops of the custards, run them under the broiler just before serving."