Friday, 24 January 2014

Alheira - a great pretender- a salsicha disfarçada

There is a Portuguese saying “peixe não puxa carroça” (fish does not pull a cart) meaning literally you cant fuel a mule on fish.Energy and sustenance according to the Portuguese can only come from meat.From a scientific point of view this is absolute bollocks,but I am always happy to go with the flow when quality meat products are at stake.
Bearing this in mind I continue my quest to learn and gain more experience of Portuguese sausages.I had two portions of
left over duck confit  and found a tasty sounding recipe for a cheats cassoulet.The recipe included smoky french garlic sausage so I dutifully searched locally for a Portuguese substitute.
Each region has a long list of specialities. The Alentejo is famous for its pork and Trás-os-Montes for its cured meats and sausages.Under guidance I purchased my first Alheira sausage...bravery beyond the call of duty...there were two varieties on offer so as an alheira virgin I went for the smaller more expensive option in the hope that quality over quantity would result in a successful choice.Alheiras are among the lightest members of the sausage family because they are traditionally made from lighter meats,such as poultry or game and plenty of seasoning, including a heck of a load of garlic.
The Alheira was invented by the Jews of Portugal, who were forced to convert to Christianity, as a way to deceive the Inquisition. Since their religion didn't allow them to eat pork, they were easily identifiable by the fact that they didn't hang sausages in their smokehouses (fumeiros in Portuguese). As a cover, they replaced pork with a large variety of other meats, such as poultry and game, which would then be mixed with bread for texture. This recipe would later spread amongst Christians, who added the ever-present pork to it.
Nowadays they tend to be fried and served with chips and a fried egg, often one of the cheapest courses in restaurant menus, but I would be a little wary and probably opt only for the more expensive varieties made with game and served in higher end establishments.
Although its name derives from the Portuguese word for garlic (alho) and was once used to describe any sausage seasoned with it, I have to say the dreaded present day Israelite "banger" did not contain the quantities of garlic i was led to expect.Nevertheless it infused my cassoulet with tremendous flavour.

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