If you’re craving the history and fabulous backstory on this amazing sausage, check out our book on Northern Portuguese Cuisine! Otherwise, keep reading…
“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!