The sky was showing off its shiniest blue, when we arrived at the house of our friends from Insider Cooking Portugal. I have known the owners for a long time and they have cooked for us many times. Today though, they shared some real kitchen secrets with us, along with a group of food bloggers and film makers who came from far away for a cooking workshop. I was thrilled.
Luis and Regina run the cooking studio near the magical town of Sintra since more than two years now and have established themselves as one of the best Portuguese spots for food lovers from all over Europe.
As we arrive, they open the door with a smile. Just by entering the house, all our senses are stimulated. The garden is full of aromatic smelling herbs, giving us a hint of the fragrances and tastes we will be experiencing in the next few hours. Lemon trees throw their gentle shadow on the stone terrace and wooden tables. The environing stunning hills of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park create a really special atmosphere. From where we stand, we can overlook the tiny village of Penedo, with the dark blue ocean in the back.
In the kitchen, the other guests are already busy preparing fresh vegetables. In the morning, they had been to the farmers market in Colares in order to buy everything we would need today. All of the products are regional and fresh.
In fact, every cooking day at Insider Cooking Portugal typically starts with a trip to the market. With the eyes of a real chef, Luis chooses the freshest and best products from the local vendors, knowing exactly what he is looking for. But the nearby market is not the only stop made during the cooking workshops. Many others such as the ‘Mercado do Livramento’ in Setubal, one of the best fish and seafood markets in the whole Lisbon region are being visited for this occasion. The place is magical. Here, flower ladies smile in their colourful stands and farmers sell their homegrown products. A stand specialized in all sorts of different chilies fills the air with a spicy smell. After leaving this very special place, the day trip with Insider Cooking to Setubal ends with a hop across the bay to Comporta, a 40 mile stretch of almost untouched beaches.
But let’s get back to the most important: Today we are cooking ‘Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato’, Portuguese clams and ‘Frango no Forno de Pão’ oven roasted chicken, all typically Portuguese dishes. Traditional cuisine prepared with modern and creative elements is Luis’ specialty.
When beginning the class, he hands us the first glass of white wine and then, shows us how his stone oven works. The farm raised chicken weighs 3 ½ kg. Some of us gasp. Luis then explains us that these are reared free and pick their own food, so that they get really big.
While the chicken is gently roasting, we prepare a delicious cold gazpacho Alentejo style, which distinguishes itself from the Spanish version through its chunky texture. In a colourful stone cup, we get to try this first delight. It tastes delicious. And so do the following dishes. For the next few hours we chat, cook, eat and laugh, while Regina’s dog Nola strolls around our legs.
After lunch, it is time to try out some Portuguese wines. Regina and Luis are real wine experts. In fact, they also organize wine trips through Portugal, at least once a year. Their last wine trip took them to the region of Bairrada in Central Portugal. The hotels for this trip had been chosen from the Secretplaces selection of small and authentic places to stay – we love working together with our friends.
The afternoon sun fills the sky with a bright orange hue as we leave. We shake hands, give last hugs and can´t wait for the next meeting. Before we leave, Luis hands me the recipe of my favourite dish, the ‘Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato’. And guess what: he allowed me to share it with you. So here it is, for you to try some real Portuguese cuisine, as a teaser for your next holiday.
Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato
(Starter for 6 persons)
1 kg clams (in Portuguese: Ameijoa boa)
0,15 l olive oil
8 garlic cloves (peeled and cut in half)
0,05 l dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Chopped cilantro (coriander)
Heat up the olive oil in a saucepan (if you have a cataplana at hand, even better) until quite hot, and then add the garlic and sauté for half a minute. Add the clams and cover the saucepan with a lid. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally shaking the closed saucepan. Remove the lid (the clams have to be open by now!), add the white wine and let it cook for another minute. Finally, add the lemon juice and coriander and serve immediately!
For decoration, you may add some slices of lemon. Serve with bread, to dip into the delicious sauce!
If you wish to make a reservation for a cooking work course or a delicious dinner at Insider Cooking Portugal, please check their website: Insider Cooking
And of course, if you want to discover the beautiful region of Sintra (which is worth the detour, trust us!), have a look at our unique selection of special accommodations in the area: Hotels Sintra and Cascais