Travel Guide to Portugal

Madeira: The Multifunctional Dessert Wine

By Sonia Nolasco

MadeiraI’m a huge fan of just about anything that’s multifunctional. Collapsible dining tables – you complete me. Storage stools – you steal my heart. Ovenproof skillets – I have the hots for you. Sarongs you can wear as a skirt, a dress, a shawl – oh, I can hardly contain myself!

When it comes to cooking with wine, Madeira, Port and Moscatel are my multifunctional dessert wine muses. They marinade, macerate, reduce, flambé, poach and so on – not to mention you can simply drink these liquid treats.

Growing up around Portuguese home cooks, I have witnessed these wines doing plenty of double-duty. Grab the ruby Port to marinade gamey meats – pour a tad, sip it – the rest goes into the strawberries with sugar to macerate. Duck in Moscatel; Chicken in Madeira; Pears in Port … there are so many savory and sweet combinations to play with using these wines. Sometimes, after a dinner party I’m left with a few half-empty bottles. I like to let them sit there, waiting for my wheels to turn on how to use them next. One recent bottle, a H.M. Borges, medium-dry Madeira called to me … I put my nose to it and a waft of candied orange peel swirled with nutmeg hit me. That’s when I decided, I needed to make my version of Madeira sauce to go with the boneless pork chops sitting in my freezer. You see, one of my favorite combinations is pork and oranges – common in Portugal’s Bairrada region where the staple dish of roasted suckling pig, “Leitao a Moda da Bairrada” is served with rounds of oranges. The sauce in itself ended up being a contrast of savory and sweet. The semi-sweetness of the wine splashed with citrus juice, cipollini onions for another layer of sweetness and salty capers to finish.

When it comes to making desserts, I admit I’m no winner. But that’s another reason to love these wines. When paired with fruit, the result is magical. Honey, Madeira, strawberries, oranges, cinnamon and nutmeg – all macerated overnight to create a delicious dessert that can be served alone or as a topping. Since orange and chocolate is a favorite sweet combo of mine – I would suggest serving our boozy fruit atop chocolate sponge cake.

To take a stab at the savory and sweet life of Madeira, try these recipes or test out your very own. We would love to hear what you come up with!

Savory: Pork Chops

Ingredients: serves 2

2 boneless pork chops
½ cup Madeira
White pepper (to taste)
Coarse salt (to taste)
½ lemon or orange
Light olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic white vinegar
4 Bay leaves
Cipollini onions (peeling is a pain, so dump them with skin in boiling water then quickly dump in cold water. Skin will come right off.)

Preparation: * Best if marinated overnight or for a couple of hours
Sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with salt (remember that the capers are also salty) and white pepper. Add to either a deep dish or into a zip lock bag, cover with the Madeira wine. Throw in the bay leaves and squeeze in the lemon/orange. Drizzle with a light olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Let marinade in the fridge until ready to cook. Remove the pork chops and pat dry; reserve the marinade. Coat the bottom of a deep, ovenproof skillet with light olive oil. Turn the heat on medium/high until hot enough to create a char on each side of the pork chops – about 4 minutes each side. Once each side is charred, lower heat and throw in the cipollini onions and bay leaves. Once onions are caramelized, add the Madeira wine marinade. Note: Pre-heat oven at 450 degrees (oven temperatures vary). Once the marinade comes to a boil, remove from heat and add to the oven and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove a few times to turn the pork chops. Last 10 minutes lower to about 425 and add the capers. Serve with your choice of side dish; buttery rice recommended.

Sweet: Strawberries & Oranges

Ingredients: serves up to 4

1lb (4 cups) of strawberries
¼ honey
8 – 10 tablespoons of Madeira wine
1 large orange
4 cinnamon sticks
Nutmeg (to taste)

Preparation: *Best if macerated overnight or for at least 2 hours at room temperature
Remove the stems and quarter strawberries; reserve. In a deep bowl big enough to fit all the fruit, dissolve the honey in the wine. Peel and slice the orange and set aside; reserve the peel if you would like to grate some zest into the fruit mixture. Add the berries to the honey/wine mixture, fold gently and add the oranges; fold again gently. Grate some fresh nutmeg (to taste) and plant the 4 cinnamon sticks into the liquid. Cover and let macerate, preferably overnight in fridge. Serve when ready.

Happy experimenting!

Sonia Andresson-Nolasco

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Since 2005, Catavino has been exploring the Iberian Peninsula looking for the very best food and wine experiences.

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