April 24, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Portuguese dishes pack flavor punch

By Brooke Dojny

Not too many Portuguese people made it up as far as Maine, but they certainly populated towns and cities along the more southern New England coastline, staying on and settling in after voyaging on whalers and clipper ships.

Among other contributions they made to New England culture, the Portuguese added their gutsy, flavorful dishes to the melting pot, enriching it immensely. Here's a menu that typifies their wonderful cuisine. 

SUCCULENT BRAISED CHICKEN PORTUGUESE-STYLE

This succulent, falling-off the-bone chicken stew demonstrates the Portuguese-American genius with seasoning. All the Portuguese flavors are here, including linguica, their wonderful peppery smoked sausage.

The stew is finished with a squeeze of orange, punctuating the dish with a delightful burst of bright citrus taste. This can be a delicious and easy weekday supper, or you could make it the basis for an all-Portuguese feast by serving the stew with boiled potatoes sprinkled with chopped cilantro, sauteed kale, and finishing with Caramel Flan (recipe follows).

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces linguica or other garlicky smoked sausage such as   kielbasa, cut in ½-inch slices

1 large onion, halved and sliced

1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped

3½ to 4 pounds chicken parts

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large bay leaves, broken in half

1 cup dry white wine or dry sherry

1 cup chicken broth or water

1 small pickled or dried hot red pepper, minced, or ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 orange, cut in wedges

In a large covered skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add sausage, onions and green peppers and cook over medium heat until the sausage is browned and the vegetables softened, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving the drippings in the pan.

Season chicken on all sides with the oregano and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Add it to the skillet, raise heat to medium-high, and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add bay leaves and cook them in the pan drippings for about 1 minute to release flavor.

Return sausage and vegetable mixture to the pan, add the wine, broth and hot pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until chicken is very tender and cooked throughout, 35 to 45 minutes. (Can be cooked a couple of hours ahead, held at cool room temperature, and reheated just before serving. Cut large breasts in half before serving.) 

Serve with the orange wedges so each person can squeeze juice over their portion. 

PORTUGUESE-STYLE CARAMEL FLAN

Caramel flan is a perfect finish to any hearty, spicy, intensely flavored main course, from whatever ethnic origin. This Portuguese-American version is, typical to their taste, intensely sweet, but with that pleasingly bitter edge from the almost-burnt caramelized sauce.

It's wonderful served in small portions by itself, or with a bowl of fresh fruits, such as strawberries and oranges, to spoon alongside.

Serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 2/3 cup

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an ungreased 9-inch round or square 11/2- to 2-quart glass baking dish.

In a heavy, medium-sized saucepan, cook the ½ cup sugar over medium heat, stirring almost constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until it melts and turns first golden and then very dark brown, about 5 minutes. (Use extreme caution! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.)

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