B is for Borrego

Tavira under a moody drizzle

Yesterday was alternately drizzly and cold and damp and underlyingly hot so we said to heck with getting drenched by either rain or sweat and went to the big Municipal Market at the end of town and bought 2 kilos of trimmed leg of lamb meat, onions, garlic, fresh oregano and bay leaves, tomatoes on the vine, Portuguese rice, carrots, a small bottle of red wine for cooking the lamb stew, and some Portuguese olive oil.

chanfana on the dinner table
Even the baguette was freshly baked

This is the second meal I have made in Tavira; the first was a spaghetti and chicken cutlets dish.

I am not bragging, especially since I do not consider myself a chef, but the meals I cooked turned out to be better tasting than anything we have had so far in any of the restaurants we have been to in the Algarve.  I think a lot of that has to do with freshness and getting better quality ingredients and taking more time making the dishes instead of serving a mass market tourist clientele.

Chanfana de Borrego
I let it slow boil, and the water, wine, and tomato paste combined with the marrow to produce an absolutely delicious stew. Piri piri and Ras El Hanout were my secret to turning this dish from run of the mill lamb stew to a dish that had developed complex layers of Portuguese and North African redolence and flavor

One thing I will say though is that the value you get and quality of food here is extraordinary.  Two kilos of lamb is 4.4 lbs, and the meat was trimmed for me and cut into nice stew size chunks by a very nice young butcher who spoke French.  This plus the Piri Piri cost around 35 dollars.  You’d be hard pressed getting 4.5 lbs of fresh, lean leg of lamb meat (not the frozen stuff you get from New Zealand at the supermarket) that is grass-fed and not shot full of hormones for less than 50 or 60 dollars in the US!

piri piri
A bottle of the famous Piri Piri, which is a kind of Portuguese Tabasco sauce, except better

It was very relaxing to spend the day with my wife in the beautiful apartment with the commanding view of Tavira, and it was nice too not to have bird portions for once, but nice healthy American ones — I had two heaping platefuls, and there was lots leftover for the weekend, when it would taste even better.

Ex Libris in East Tavira is the go to place for essentials like this

One negative was that the oven in this apartment is one of those new fangled induction ovens.  All the buttons were etched into the glass stovetop. The oven would go on and off all the time if you inadvertently had a pot touch on those “buttons” that were flat in the glass.  I dislike electric ovens of any type; and would rather use a Viking stovetop any day of the week over new fangled induction style cooking:  better control over the heat, and meat braises better over a flame.

tavira rice
Shaved fresh carrots, arroz, and creamy Portuguese butter combine to make this a heavenly side for the lamb. Unfortunately, I could not find any fresh peas at market.

The idea for this was inspired by a recipe for Chanfano de Borrego, but this is not of course Chanfana.  Despite concerns I had about it would mesh with the lamb, the Piri Piri gave the stew a nice zing; we’ll be taking the fresh oregano and bay leaves home with us.  They tasted so good!  I have only had the dried stuff you find in supermarkets before this — even in Nice, the spices were dried, not fresh,

To state the obvious, fresh organic food is soooooooo much better, and the lamb was absolutely tender and non fatty and melting in our mouth with each bite. Unlike, say, El Gouna, Egypt, where much of the rice and fresh veggies were imported from Russia, the vegetables you buy at market here are local.

Plus, no #2 issues, as happened earlier this week for both us, after a dinner than included fresh lettuce and pea soup.  When you cook yourself, you can wash everything thoroughly:  the cooking utensils, pots and pans; your hands; and the food itself.  This way you know for sure that everything is tip-top in the cleanliness department.

All in all, it was a lovely, quiet way to spend the day — far away from all the touristos who choke up the cobbled narrow street of Tavira as they search for something they shall probably never find or even know exactly what it is  — and spent the rest of the day cooking, and enjoying each other’s company, and watching Breaking Bad on Netflix on a big 48 inch Smart TV, instead of turning on CNN and getting depressed about returning to the crassness Florida on Wednesday.

leaving america