One of the many pleasant aspects of visiting a new culture or area is that the ol’ taste buds can get excited about a new range of food items. Madeira may be a modestly sized island, ~36mls/60kms x 14mls/23kms, but it was a rich source of new flavours and textures to explore.
Just about the first meal anyone mentions when you announce that you are about to visit Madeira for the first time is their Scabbard Fish with Banana recipe. It sounds a little weird to us, I suppose, my mother certainly wrinkled her nose when I mentioned it, although we are quite used to serving fruit with meat so why not with fish meat? Interpretations seem to vary a little but its essence seemed to be a fillet of fried fish with a couple of halves of fried banana. The Scabbard Fish is a deep water fish (down below 800m/2500ft) and is most interesting in its unprepared state. I know I’ve shown it before but here it is again for the sake of completeness. Verdict: quite pleasant but I wouldn’t rave about it.
My first brush with traditional Portuguese fare, though, was Bacalhau a Brás, a dish which resembles Kedgeree, really, It’s made with flaked Bacalau (salted Cod) in a mixture of egg, onion and grated potato (which replaces the rice in Kedgeree). There’s a few black olives thrown in as well for good measure. I loved it and chose it for both my Sunday lunches on the island.
Some while ago I watched limpets being prepared somewhat experimentally by a couple of our TV chefs, one being my hero, Mr. Stein. Enter one of my biggest irritations of the British people. Here we are, surrounded by a rich source of delicious food in our offshore waters, much of which our dullard population at best ignores or at worst refuses to try, such that our bounty is shipped of to the much more discerning foreigners. Mention snails or frogs’ legs to many a Brit and you’ll get a reaction along the lines of “yuk, that sounds ‘orrible!”. These are often the same folks that will happily stuff the lining of cows’ stomachs down their neck in the form of tripe. Limpets sounded exciting to me, why don’t we use them? They are really just a small version of the very highly prized abalone, after all? They encrust most of the rocks along our rocky shore and, though perhaps difficult to gather, should be plentiful. I’ve wanted to try them for some time. Bless Madeira! The Madeirans love ‘em and even have a special pan on which to cook and serve Grilled Limpets (or Grilled Limpeds, as I saw them advertised on one restaurant board). They tend to get the garlic butter treatment and I thought them utterly delicious.
For a bit of a blow-out on our last evening meal in Madeira, we finally bumped into a classic Portuguese dish called Cataplana. Actually, a cataplana is really the cooking pot from which the dish takes its name. The cataplana is a sort of symmetrical clam-shell shaped pan/pot, typically made of copper, in which all manner of combinations of mouth-watering delicacies are baked in the oven. Our version – they clearly vary tremendously – contained a mixture of pork and seafood including clams, prawns and mussels. We both loved it and it made a very fitting end to our enjoyable week on Madeira.
A final footnote. While waiting on Sunday to board our TAP flight back to a cold and potentially snowy England, we couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of this advertising hoarding in Funchal airport’s departure lounge. Recognizing that the spelling and particularly the pronunciation of the English language is tricky and must be a bear for a teacher to explain so we won’t laugh but this brought a smile to the face of a Brit who didn’t want to go home.
It was a nice stay on a very friendly island.