“If this was my avó making sausage, she’d string it up in the cellar. I don’t know if she smoked it first, or if it was just dried that way, but her sausage was always amazing!” said my Portuguese husband after a morning of homemade alheira production, which was a first for both of us. To be fair, my husband’s grandmother probably never made alheira. Her sausages were more likely to be of the linguiça or chouriço variety, but the general idea is the same – choice cuts of minced meat are mixed with rich fragrant spices and stuffed into a casing that is dried, or smoked, to preserve the savouriness that can only be found in cured meats.
Alheira, a garlicky bread and game sausage, is not your average cured meat. This is a sausage with history and drama! As the story goes (and there are many), during the Portuguese inquisition, the Christians were determined to convert the masses, especially those with a Kosher diet such as the Jews. While most sausages are made up of pork, offal, and other meats, this wasn’t an acceptable blend for those who practiced Judaism, so alheira was born as a poultry and bread based sausage, heavily spiced with garlic and paprika.
Nowadays alheira is often made with pork, rabbit, or any kind of meat that is currently available, but I chose to simulate a more traditional recipe using mix of duck, chicken, and turkey. And I have to say, the end result was phenomenal!
After boiling the meat until it was fully cooked, I shredded and/or chopped the various poultry until it minced and fine. The savory broth is then reserved for later use in the recipe.
The next all important ingredient in sausage is flavor filled fat. In most cases, this can be bought perfectly packaged in the store, but I chose to use my duck for all its worth. Instead of boiling it in the broth, I rendered my duck skin and wound up with more than enough fat to include in the stuffing.
Casings are what hold the sausage together, and if you want links, they can’t be ignored. They are available in synthetic, plastic, or natural forms. I went all natural and wound up with a bag of pork tripas, or intestines. I avoided using pork for obvious reasons with trying to stick to the original idea behind this sausage, but there was nothing else available. I also couldn’t figure out for the life of me what else would have been used in the time where synthetic casings didn’t exist.
The best piece of advice I can give is about how to effectively work with a casing – this isn’t easy! Natural sausage casings are a bit tricky to work with. They need to be washed and re-washed, inside and out. It also has a tendency to burst if one isn’t careful, not like I’m speaking from experience, so tread lightly! As for the funnel, the most successful came from a small water bottle, cut close to the base, with the casing opening secured to the mouth with string or rubber band. Editor’s note: Rub some of the oil from the meat onto the casing to help ease the opening of the casing.
Alheira is a smoked sausage but many people, myself included, do not own a smoker or a place to smoke meats. Hence, improvisation is key! I steamed my sausages with a nice woody flavor before popping it in the oven. Now, while the end result was tasty, it’s definitely not the same as smoke. If you have a smoker available, or a good method for smoking food at home, I do suggest trying it to put that final touch on your sausages.
So, is this worth your time? YES! Despite the process being time-consuming and incredibly messy, it was delicious and eye opening. I loved experimenting, choosing my ingredients, and getting my hand’s dirty fashioning various flavors depending on my mood. I’m now plotting my next wave of Portuguese sausages to experiment with! Bring on the linguiça!
So if you’re not afraid to turn your kitchen into a Portuguese laboratory, get cooking! But, if you’d rather have a customized food tour featuring the vast flavors Portuguese cuisine, this can be arranged. Just drop us a line!
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 onion, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1⅓ pounds (600g) bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 ¼ pounds (550g) boneless skinless turkey
- 4½ pounds (2kg) whole duck
- 1 pound (500g) day old wheat bread
- 1 head of garlic
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons piri-piri or red pepper flakes
- Pinch of salt
- 3 ounces (89ml) duck fat or lard, melted
- 1½ (680g) Tripe or Sausage casing
- Place the 4 garlic cloves, onion, bay leaves and salt into a large stock pot. Add in the chicken thighs and turkey. Remove the skin from the breasts and legs of the duck and set it aside. Add the duck to the stock pot and fill it just to cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil and let it cook until the meat pulls away fromt the bone fairly easily. Strain the broth into a bowl and allow the meat to cool enough to touch. Return the broth to the pot and allow it to simmer until reduced down to half.
- Put the duck skin into a deep pan over medium heat. Allow the fat from the skin to render out into the pan, turning the skin every 5-10 minutes. If it sticks too much to the bottom, reduce the heat to medium low. Pour the fat into a container and save for later. Mince the cooked duck skin as finely as possible and place in a large bowl.
- Remove the meat from the bone, shredding it as you go and add it to the bowl with the cooked duck skin. Discard any cartilage and bone or undesirable parts.
- Once the meat has all been removed, transfer it to a cutting board and finely chop it with a knife. Return the meat to the bowl.
- Peel and remove the stem of the head of garlic. With a pestle and mortar, grind the garlic cloves into a paste. Add in the paprika, salt and piri-piri and grind it together. Add the seasoning to the meat and mix well with your fingers.
- Break the bread into small pieces and place it in an empty bowl. Pour the reserved broth from the poultry over the bread and allow it to soak it up. Once the bread has become soft, mix it with your fingers. Add the meat and duck fat and stir well to mix again.
- Place the cleaned tripe on a cutting board and tie one end off with butchers twine or some kind of thick thread. In the other end, place a funnel and either fix the end with another thread or hold it very tightly to the funnel mouth. Carefully, fill the funnel with the sausage filling and push it down into the casing. Be careful not to over fill the sausage and leave a couple inches of loose room on either end of the casing.
- Once the casing is filled, measure about a finger and a half in length and carefully twist the casing to create links. This is actually quite easy if the sausage isn’t stuffed too full. If it’s too full it can either break out at the end or perforate the casing in the middle. Repeat with the rest of the length of sausage, and tie off the other end with butcher’s twine. If planning on separating the sausage after smoking, tie twine between each link to make it easier to separate.
- Smoke the sausage for 3 – 6 hours in a traditional smoker, an outdoor coal barbecue, a conventional oven or just get a bit crafty! It is suggested to do this for 3-5 days to preserve the sausages well and give the right amount of smoky flavor.
- When your alheira is done, grill it and serve with boiled potatoes and vegetables or fry it and serve with a runny yolked egg, batatas fritas and a green salad!