Pass the port: Mark Hix finds culinary inspiration on a trip to meet a Portuguese wine-maker
Saturday 04 July 2009
A few weeks ago, I went on a trip to Portugal with the Chop House's wine merchant John Hutton – but our journey out there turned into a bit of a passport nightmare. In London the night before we left, I suddenly realised that my passport was in the side pocket of my small travel case in Dorset.
Luckily my friend, the restaurateur Mitch Tonks, was travelling up from Brixham for the trip and was able to make a small detour to Charmouth to pick up my passport. As we were checking in at the airport, however, Mitch suddenly realised that his wife Penny had packed his old passport by mistake, so he had to get his current one couriered up by a local taxi company – which cost an arm and a leg as you can imagine – and had to fly out later in the day from Heathrow.
Mitch just about managed to get to us in time for the end of dinner with our host, the wine and port-maker Sophia Bergqvist from the Quinta de la Rosa vineyard. We began the evening with a few glasses of Sophia's delicious house cocktail, called "Sophia's Sling", made from white port and tonic. White port (which you can buy from specialist wine merchants) is very versatile: you could serve it as a pudding wine, as an accompaniment to foie gras or simply chilled from the fridge as a great apéritif – and I have used it as an inspiration in the following recipes.
The last time I used white port was when I was marinating foie gras for a terrine a few years ago, but now that I've been re-introduced to the stuff it's definitely going to be my drink of the summer. You don't need a formal recipe here; simply put a large measure of white port into a slim Jim or highball glass with ice and top it up with tonic water (Fever-tree is my favourite brand) and a slice of lemon.
Braised pork cheeks and chorizo with porto branco and broad beans
Pork cheeks are one of the best cuts you can buy for braising. Ask your butcher to order them in advance or use pieces of pork neck as an alternative. Use cooking chorizo for this and not the slicing chorizo (Brindisa, the Spanish food specialists in London's Borough Market, sell fantastic cooking chorizo – see brindisa.com).
800g pork cheeks, cut into about 3cm chunks
2tbsp flour, plus extra for dusting
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g butter plus a couple of extra knobs for the broad beans
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tsp tomato purée
1.5ltrs hot beef stock
200ml white port
A couple of sprigs of thyme
150g cooking chorizo
250g podded weight of broad beans
1tbsp chopped parsley
Heat a heavy-based frying pan on a medium heat. Season and lightly flour the pork cheeks and fry in a couple of batches until they are a nice brown colour. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan and gently cook the garlic and shallots on a low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often until softened. Stir in the flour and continue cooking and stirring on a medium heat for a minute. Add the tomato purée and gradually whisk in the hot stock and white port. Add the thyme and pork, season, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook on a low heat for 1 hour. Cut the chorizo into rough 1cm chunks or if using small ones then leave them whole. Heat a heavy frying pan and cook the chorizo on a medium heat for a few minutes, lightly colouring them, then drain any fat away and pat with some kitchen paper and add to the stew. Re-season if necessary and continue simmering gently for about 30 minutes or until the pork is tender.
Meanwhile, cook the broad beans in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until tender, then drain and run briefly under the cold tap. Some large broad beans may need the outer shells removing. Heat the extra butter in a pan and re-heat the broad beans and parsley and season. To serve, spoon the pork and sauce into warmed serving bowls and scatter the beans over.
Steamed cockles with white port and wild fennel
Rather like sherry, white port really complements shellfish such as cockles. You could use clams for this if you can't get live cockles, or even use a mixture of both. Cockles need to be left in a bowl of cold water for an hour or so and agitated with your hands quite regularly so that they shed any sand.
1kg live cockles
150ml white port
2tbsp wild fennel or dill
150g chilled butter, cut into small pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the cockles in fresh water and place in a large saucepan with the white port and fennel. Season lightly, cover with a lid and cook on a high heat, shaking the pan every so often until all the cockles are opened. Strain off the liquid into another pan and whisk in the butter until melted and emulsified. Spoon the cockles into warmed serving bowls and pour the butter over.
Strawberry and white port trifle
Trifle normally conjures up memories of a splash of old sherry that's been hanging around in the drinks cabinet for ages. Now that I've got the white port bug, though, a good old-fashioned trifle seemed an obvious choice.
50g sponge cake
100ml white port
For the jelly
100-120g strawberries, chopped
200ml white port
100g caster sugar
6g leaf gelatine (2 sheets)
For the custard
Half a vanilla pod
300ml double cream
5 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
For the topping
250ml Jersey cream
60g caster sugar
20-30g almonds toasted with 1tsp sugar or crushed macaroons, to serve
For the jelly, bring the water, strawberries and sugar to the boil and simmer gently for a couple of minutes and remove from the heat. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a minute or so until soft, squeeze out the water and stir into the strawberry mixture till dissolved, strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool a little, then add the white port.
Break the sponge into pieces and put into 4 individual glass serving dishes or 1 large one and pour over the white port. Slice the strawberries and put them on top of the soaked sponge; pour over the cooled, but not set, jelly so it just covers the strawberries. Put in the fridge for an hour or so to set.
Meanwhile, make the custard. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the point of a knife. Put the double cream, vanilla pod and seeds into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Take out the vanilla pod and pour the cream on to the egg mixture and mix well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook gently over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens. (Don't let it boil!) Remove from the heat and give it a final mix with a whisk. Transfer to a bowl, lay a sheet of clingfilm over the surface of the custard to prevent it forming a skin and leave it to cool for about 30 minutes. Once the jelly has set, spoon over the custard then leave to set for half an hour or so.
Now prepare the topping. Blend the strawberries in a liquidiser until smooth. Put the double cream and sugar into a bowl and carefully whisk until fairly firm, then leave in the fridge until the custard has set. Gently fold the strawberry purée into the whisked cream to form a ripple effect. Spoon the mixture on top of the trifle and decorate with the almonds toasted with a little sugar in the oven (watch them like a hawk or they'll burn) or use crushed macaroons instead.
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