Flamed Portuguese sausage. Fire, good.
by Rob Firing
Four years ago I visited Lisbon, and then stayed for a week on a refurbished horse ranch just outside a little town called Zambujeira do Mar, halfway down the Alentejo coast in Portugal. I’ve been charmed by the notion of anything Portuguese ever since, their incredible food in particular, and I promptly, if coincidentally, moved into a largely Portuguese neighbourhood in Toronto upon my return.
A few blocks away from my house, my wife and I spied a pig-shaped, terracotta vessel in the window of a Portuguese bakery, and knew immediately that I must own whatever this was supposed to be. I’d seen these in Alentejo, but was too shy to make inquiries. The old woman in the store enthusiastically told me to pour strong booze into it, lay chouriço across its cradle, and light the thing on fire. It took me two more years before I dug the assador de chouriço out from the back of my cupboard, but I finally did. It was exciting and insanely good—dinner and a show.
Summer pasta with pumpkin seed pesto and assa chouriço kickers
I count myself very lucky to have a garden with food growing in it. A short meander later, I have nearly everything I need for dinner:
one big handful of fresh basil
one cereal bowl of cherry tomatoes
one small handful of garlic chives
one clove of garlic
And the rest from the pantry:
one package of decent dry linguini
some nice olive oil
handful of raw pumpkin seeds (shelled kernels)
juice from half a lemon
one cup of grated Romano cheese
two assa chouriço sausages
aguardente vinica (or brandy)
In a blender or food processor combine basil leaves and their tender stems (if there are any), carefully rinsed of their soil—there is nothing good about biting into grit in your food—pumpkin seeds, four good glugs of the nice olive oil, the lemon juice, the garlic clove, chopped up a bit, and the grated Romano, and give it a whiz until it’s somewhat less viscous than a paste. You’ll want it that way so it doesn’t clog up the pasta when you mix it in later on. Add more olive oil if you need to. Hold the pesto aside. You can make it hours ahead of time and simply keep it covered until your pasta is ready.
Cook and drain the linguini and in the same pot (now empty of water but still pretty hot), combine it with the halved cherry tomatoes, which the hot pot and pasta will warm nicely, and chopped garlic chives (or just regular chives), then the pesto, so that the pasta is well coated but not swimming in it. Serve in pasta bowls with a little romano sprinkled on top, and a few of the choicest basil leaves tossed on at the end, for flourish, and maybe a light salad — I served this with a fresh tomato and cucumber salad. Let your guests have some vinho verde if you like. A fine pairing, and perfect on a warm summer night.
Assa Chouriço (flamed Portuguese sausage)
Pour an inch of Aguardente Vinica—that’s the Portuguese stuff, but you can use any unspecial brandy—into the assador de chouriço. If you don’t have one of those, you can use a baking dish and a cake rack.
Slice the chouriço across every at every quarter inch almost all the way through but not quite, so that it holds together. You get more surface area this way, and the fatty bits on the inside get a better kiss from the flame.
Light the booze on fire with a match. With tongs, lay the chouriço lengthwise on top. If brandy doesn’t light right away, know that it might take two or three tries. If you’re still having trouble, warm the booze up a little first, so that the fumes light more easily. Once lit, the flame should intensify as the sausage is rendered of its fat, which becomes part of the fuel in the assador. Turn the chouriço with tongs once or twice to caramelize and heat through. When you’re done with the flame, gently blow it out.
My assador holds two sausages quite nicely. The chouriço will sizzle and spit and provide a dramatic, aromatic, and undeniably macho show as it darkens, smokes and curls for your dinner guests. This particular sort of chouriço comes cured and hot smoked, so really it’s already cooked. If you’re using raw sausage, boil it first and let it cool and dry off. Real chouriço (that’s the Portuguese spelling, by the way), is made for this, though. The taste of brandy-flamed goodness comes through to give this salty, paprika-spiked ham sausage an unbelievably zingy, roasted punch.
I flamed the chouriço for my guests as a starter and served it with a jar of Kozlik’s Dijon and a nice bottle of Douro, which completely transformed the crowd from a polite gathering to a bunch of unruly carnivores asking for more, which is exactly what one might hope for.
all photos by Scott James