Being in Portugal for a week with the family means wonderful meals and warm memories. We spent a lot of time here growing up and fell in love with a simple style of food which takes advantage of the truly tasty ingredients on offer. Everything from a humble cucumber, a piece of corn-fed chicken or a dense chewy piece of bread brings raptures at the clarity and truth in the flavours.
That’s a fancy way of saying that every time we eat here we say “This cucumber is just so… cucumbery. This tomato is just so… tomatoey. This chicken is just so… chickeny”… it goes on (and on!).
So, while here and planning a lovely barbecue with sardines and fresh sea bass, chicken and char-grilled vegetables, we decided to make a dish of Portuguese Potatoes. Now, despite this rather long intro, this isn’t actually an old family recipe, or a dish we enjoyed in a tiny Portuguese bistro years ago. It’s from Tessa Kiros’ wonderful book Piri Piri and Starfish (which I heartily recommend), with a few adjustments to suit our tastes (more wine!).
This dish is so good that it has very quickly established itself as a barbecue essential and a firm family favourite. In fact, I’m partly putting this recipe up for my Mum so she can make them when she has a BBQ for their golf friends in the next couple of weeks! It is also on the menu at our Portuguese supper club events – taking place in Bristol, Nottingham & Sheffield over summer 2015.
Portuguese Potatoes are a fantastic, rich and indulgent side dish which make the most of very few ingredients. I’ve made it in England, Barcelona and Portugal and can say that it has been delicious in all 3 places – despite the variations in the ingredients available.
Because it is slow cooked it brings out the flavours of each ingredient, so whether you’ve got an anaemic pack of potatoes from the corner shop, or a gleaming beauty you grew yourself, it will taste great. That said, it is worth getting hold of vine tomatoes if you can, and fresh bay leaves where possible. These definitely improve the flavour, but if you can’t get them, make it anyway. It will still be delicious.
Portuguese Potatoes Recipe
Time needed: 1hr 45mins – 2hrs (about 15 mins preparation time, the rest is time in the oven)
Ingredients (serves 4-6 depending on accompaniments):
- 1kg Potatoes (waxy – new potatoes are particularly good)
- 2 Large white onions (use red if you only have those – we did!)
- 500g Tomatoes (vine if possible for the stronger flavour, but normal are fine too)
- 6-7 Bay leaves (fresh if possible, add a couple extra if using dried ones)
- 150ml White wine
- 75-100g Butter
- 50ml Olive oil
- Heat the oven to 190. Find a large roasting tin and butter it generously. Note that I said butter… not margarine. Margarine will not work in this dish. However, if you are vegan you can replace butter with generous amounts of olive oil.
- Cut your potatoes into similar sized chunks – no need to peel them. If you’re using new potatoes just halve them. If you’re using bigger potatoes then cut them into pieces about the size of half a new potato! Too big means they take too long, too small and they go hard, so this is the bit to concentrate on.
- Chop your onions in half then slice into pieces twice as thick as a pound coin. I don’t worry about doing this evenly as I like a mixture of a few thinner crispy bits and thicker buttery soft pieces.
- Place your potatoes into the roasting tin creating a single layer, close together. You want them to be packed in but not too tight or loose as this allows the liquid to help them cook and stops it from evaporating too much.
- Scatter a layer of onions over the top.
- Tuck in bayleaves all around the dish.
- Sprinkle with olive oil and knobs of butter. Be generous, stinting on the butter here is only doing your tastebuds a disservice.
- Add the white wine, a decent grind of pepper and sprinkle with rock salt if you have it, table salt if not. Mix it all up a bit then shake it back down in the tin to create one layer again.
Seal it tightly with foil – if you haven’t got foil long enough then use a couple of layers. The tight seal helps everything inside to stay moist and creates wonderful juices for you to eat out of the pan later.
Bake like this for around 1 hour. It takes different amounts of time with different potatoes so have a look and if they are underdone then pop it back in for another 15 mins. Basically the potatoes need to be cooked through by this point.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the tomatoes! They are stage 2…
- Chop the tomatoes into thick slices – again you don’t need to worry about perfect sizing on this. The variety just adds to the dish.
- When your potatoes feel pretty much cooked through add your tomatoes as a top layer in the tin. Put the foil back on and bake for 15 mins.
- Take the foil off and crank the oven up to around 220 to cook for 15 mins to crisp everything up and add some caramelised edges. This is the point where I normally can’t wait any longer as the smell starts to waft out of the oven and I end up eating them slightly underdone. This impatience does me no favours as the last 15 mins really adds to the flavour of the whole dish. This is also the point where you made need a little extra time and even more patience – you want the tomatoes to begin to caramelise, with tasty brown patches. If they haven’t, turn it up a little more and leave them a little longer. Have a taste at this point and see if it needs any extra salt or pepper, then it’s ready to serve!
I usually serve them on the table in the roasting tin so that everyone can mop up the rich buttery wine sauce with slabs of bread.
These potatoes are a real treat and work well with simply cooked fish, grilled chicken, piri piri chicken, portobello mushrooms or even just on their own with some good bread and a green salad of rocket & watercress dressed with the pan juices. Whatever you serve them with needs to be fairly plain and reasonably healthy so that you don’t feel any pangs of guilt when adding the butter!
Hope you enjoy this beautiful dish as much as we do. It’s easy to make and, though it takes a long time, this is mostly in the oven, not in prep. This makes it ideal for a barbecue, when you have guests coming over or a lot of other things to make.