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I’m a sausage fan. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Cumberland, Scottish square slice or Spanish wild boar chorizo, I love them – the herbier and spicier the better. So when I heard about alheira sausages they immediately went on the list of Portugal’s culinary offerings that were destined to have a date with my taste buds.
Their background is intriguing. In the 15th century during the Inquisition anyone who wasn’t spotted regularly munching on the local sausages fell under suspicion. To blend in with everyone else and therefore avoid persecution, some creative chefs amongst the Jewish population in northern Portugal came up with the alheira – a sausage that looked like a chorizo but was made with just about everything other meat under the sun…except pork that is.
Chicken, beef, partridge and, or quail is mixed with wheat bread, garlic, olive oil and a secret mix of spices and made into a horseshoe shaped sausage which can be fried, grilled or barbecued. I’m pretty sure I saw a woodpecker one on a menu in Porto but it was New Year so my memory is probably not to be trusted.
Ironically, the alheira tasted so good that it was adopted by non-Jews as well and is now immensely popular across northern Portugal. Most now include pork amongst their ingredients
I experienced my first in Guimarães and had to suppress a schoolboy snigger when I saw what it actually looked like. Look at the photograph…I don’t really have to spell it out.
Appearances aside, alheiras are right up my culinary street. Their texture is more like thick pate than sausage and any inquisitor worth their salts would have spotted they were having their cloaked hood pulled over their beady eyes if they’d actually tried one. But their fusion of slightly smoky flavours and perky aftershock creates a spicy and savoury winning combination. It’s a sausage Jim, but not as we know it.
The alheira is often served with boiled cabbage, potatoes and the obligatory fried egg. Apart from being pleasing on the palate, it’s a cheap and surprisingly filling meal for anyone on a budget.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+