Consoada – Christmas Eve Dinner

In Portugal on Christmas Eve ( a vespera de natal ), a family dinner known as the night of the “Consoada” is celebrated. The word Consoada refers to a small meal that is taken at the end of a day´s fasting and derives from the Latin word consolare, meaning “to comfort”. At Christmas, cod (bacalhau) is the King. Although there are other traditional dishes, currently the dish that most Portuguese families eat at Christmas is cod.
Cod is an important part of national identity and history. And at Christmas, this presence is even stronger due to the ecclesiastical tradition of fasting, not being able to eat meat, the faithful cod made tradition on the Christmas tables. However if cod is the king of Portuguese Christmas, octopus is the Emperor. The tradition of eating octopus at Christmas was so strong that people smuggled it from Galicia, the centre of octopus fishing – finding very imaginative ways to get the octopus across the Portuguese/Spanish border.
During the Salazar dictatorship, the importation of octopus was prohibited, giving preference to cod. However, the desire to eat octopus was so strong that it became contraband.  Despite the strong control of the fiscal guards, there was always a way to get the octopus to Portugal. It was hidden in several layers of clothing, buried in holes, among other creative ways to deceive the border guard.
At Christmas, the octopus was hung behind the door, and two days before breakfast, the women washed it in the fountain. They also beat the octopus on a rock at least 50 times until it went limp. Then they cooked the octopus until it was tender, and it was served with potatoes and onions. It was eaten before the midnight mass.

Apart fom polvo lagereiro which is probably my most loved Portuguese dish there is one recipe that fits the Christmas tradition beautifully and I thought it was time to give it another airing.
The recipe originates from Soho House West Hollywood´s chef Michael Mahony, so the first time I made it I thought I better check the ingredients listing to ensure it would work in the Algarve. 
The first taste test came up trumps and translated beautifully into Algarvian terms and on the plate it certainly dressed to impress.The flame red Catalan romesco played with the rich syrupy brown hues of balsamic, and my innovation of a citrus balsamic reduction which I had kept in my back head from one of those memorable restaurant dinners, complemented it brilliantly.

Grilled octopus with Romesco sauce,wild rocket salad 
and citrus balsamic reduction
Serves 8

Romesco sauce
3 dried nõra or choricero peppers
I red capsicum or bell pepper
I Roma (plum tomato)
5 cloves garlic

1 cup / 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
1x!nch /3 cm thick slice of day old bread
1/4 cup/35g hazelnuts
1/4 cup 75 ml sherry vinegar
lemon for squeezing
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Re-hydrate the nõra peppers in boiling water,having cleaned out as many seeds as possible.
Roast the red pepper in a roasting tray with the tomato and cloves of garlic until the skin of the pepper is charred.Put in a sealed plastic bag until cool then remove the skin.When the tomato is cool deseed and remove the skin.
Purée the pepper, tomato, nõra peppers and garlic.Pulse slowly, gradually adding the oil until smooth.Tear the bread into pieces then add to the mixture along with the hazelnuts.Purée again.Season and add the vinegar and squeeze of lemon.Add one teaspoon cayenne pepper.Adjust the seasoning.

The octopus
1 raw octopus,around 900g /2lb
I bottle white wine
1/2 cup /50g black peppercorns
1 tablespoon tomato puree

zest of 1 orange 
Heat a large pan with a little oil.Bring it to smoking point,then sear the octopus on both sides until it turns a rich red color.Once red on both sides,add the wine,peppercorns,tomato paste and orange zest.Braise until tender,about one hour. Allow the octopus to cool fully.Slice into pieces, removing the eyes and beak and mushy parts within the head,(if not removed already) making sure you keep the tentacles intact.
Marinate the octopus pieces in half the Romesco sauce (recipe above)overnight if possible.Keep the rest of the sauce for serving.

Balsamic vinegar dressing
1 shallot,diced
1 clove of garlic,minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup /125 ml balsamic vinegard
11/2 cups 575ml extra virgin olive oil
Flor de sal and cracked black pepper
lemon for squeezing
Combine the shallot,garlic and mustard.Add the vinegar and whisk in the oil.Season to taste with cracked black pepper and salt and finish with squeeze of lemon.

Citrus Balsamic reduction
2 cups /500ml balsamic vinegar
1/2 lemon juiced
1/2 small orange juiced

Mix the vinegar and lemon juice then reduce by half over a low flame.Be careful not to over reduce or scorch the vinegar

For the salad
Marinated octopus pieces
1 orange,zest julienned juiced
4 or 5 handfuls of wild rocket
remaining romesco sauce
citrus balsamic reduction
balsamic dressing
Place the marinated octopus pieces on the barbecue or griddle pan.Char the octopus pieces until heated through,being careful not to overcook or burn the smaller part of the tentacles.Remove from the heat. Pour the orange juice over the octopus and allow to rest.
Toss the rocket and zest in a bowl.Season with salt and pepper and dress lighty with balsamic dressing.Toss again.Slice each octopus part into 3 - 4 pieces and toss with the salad.

On a serving plate,spread a small amount of romesco on the bottom along with a small amount of citrus balsamic reduction.Place tossed salad over the romesco and balsamic allowing a little of each to be seen.Make sure to layer all the ingredients so every little bite has everything in it.


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