Eating out on weekends were always the highlight of the week for us when we were small. My father was a food enthusiast and he loved to try out different restaurants in and around Macau city. He loved fine dinning especially, so we quite often dined in the exclusive Portuguese restaurant inside the hotel Pousada de São Tiago, a former fortress originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century against the local pirates and other European countries (who wanted to invade Macau, which was a lucrative trading port in the far east at the time). The hotel is situated in the south west corner of the Macau Peninsula, overlooking Macau city and the Pearl River Estuary. It was always excited for us children to walk proudly into the fortress through the glass door, like princesses and princes in our beloved fairy tales, and knowing that a sumptuous meal which we had been looking forward to all week long, would be waiting for us to feast on. I remember the redolence of olive oil and freshly baked bread filled the colonial style restaurant, the smell of our childhood. We often sat at a longish table as there were always six or seven of us. The table was covered with perfectly pressed white table cloth; plates, cutleries and napkins were placed immaculately on top, in line with the dinning chairs. As always, father sat at one end of the table (the CEO seat as we called it) wearing his greenish brown blazer, with mother in her favorite wool lilac cardigan sitting by his side, making sure we children behaved.
I, as a young child, was more interested in the Portuguese food than anything else (where as my father rather enjoyed the prestigious feeling when dinning in restaurant as such). I absolutely loved the exotic taste of olives, chouriço (Portuguese version of chorizo) and bacalhau (salted cod) which my father generously introduced to us. Our favorite dishes were poached bacalhau served with boiled potato, cabbages, chouriço and hard boiled eggs, always finished off with a good drizzle of olive oil. Caldo Verde (Potato and Kale soup dotted with crispy chouriço slices), fried rice with bacalhau, green bell pepper, black olives and chouriço; Galinha Portuguesa (Portuguese Chicken, it is more like a Macanese dish than Portuguese, see recipe here), Cataplana with clams and so on, dessert would be creme caramel and Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart, my version of the recipe here). Our table would be packed full of delicious food, it was a feast every time. I remember all these food experiences we had as a family vividly, every single one of them was important to me. I am grateful that my father had introduced us to many different cuisines and educated us to be open-minded to wide range of different flavours. Perhaps it explains why I too became a food enthusiast and end up working with food.
Today’s recipe is not one of those recreations of my childhood dishes, but it has a Portuguese origin, it is a recipe I adapted from a cookbook called ‘Die Portugiesische Küche’, which was written by writer and illustrator Alexandra Klobouk who works between Berlin and Lisbon, and Rita Cortes Valente de Oliveira who is Lisbon based product designer with a background of cookbook writing. This book (only in German though) explores the traditional Portuguese kitchen and food culture, with classic Portuguese recipes as well as those from the modern kitchen. What I love about this book is there are full of beautiful yet quirky illustrations to show how the recipe works, it is just so clever and fun to read.
I was attracted to this particular recipe because it reminds me of some dishes we had back home in Macau, my favorite one was slow-cook oxtails with port wine. I haven’t cooked with port wine before so I thought it would be a great opportunity to start. After some research and a few shots of port to taste, I fell in love with the wine. I prefer Tawny port (which aged in wooden casks and usually served as a dessert wine, it has complex flavours of chocolate and caramel) than ruby port (the cheapest type, stored in stainless steel tanks after fermented to stop it ages further, with bright and fruity notes). The combination of the port, honey, balsamic vinegar and the juice from the cooked pork filet is one of the best mix of flavours one can acquire.
The original recipe from the book didn’t call for any fennel, but I have some in hand and as fennel and pork are always a good match, so I didn’t hesitate to include it. It turned out that the fennel was fork tender and went amazingly well with the succulent pork filet, it was definitely a flawless addition. The book suggests to serve the meat with fried onions rice (also from the book) but I made an olive rice instead as I think the saltiness of the olive will provide a great contrast for the otherwise quite sweet sauce that the port and honey produced. And I highly recommend to serve it with rice because it absorbs the incredible flavours of the sauce, just amazing.
Baked Pork Filet and Fennel with Port Wine, Portuguese Style – Served with Olive Rice
Adapted from ‘Die Portugiesische Küche’ cookbook by Alexandra Klobouk
serves 2 generously or 3
For the pork:
- 450g organic or free range pork filet (leave whole)
- 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 2 small (or 1 large) fennel bulbs, trim off the stems, halved and then quartered (then halve the quarters if too big)
- 4 cloves of garlic, skin on and crashed with the side of the knife
- 5 tbsp. Port wine
- 1 tbsp. runny honey
- 3 tbsp. of good quality olive oil, plus 2 tbsp. for searing
- 1.5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
For the olive rice:
- 3 cups of cooked basmati rice
- 1 cup of mixed olives, halved or leave whole if small
Preheat the oven at 220 degrees celsius.
Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron pan (or other shallow frying pan) until hot, carefully place the pork filet on the pan, turn the heat down to medium high, sear the meat with a sprig of rosemary, season with flaky sea salt and a turn or two of freshly ground black pepper, (make sure all side of the filet is seasoned) until all sides take on a nice brown colour.
Tear a large piece of tin foil, place the seared pork filet, the fennel, garlic and the remaining two sprigs of rosemary on the foil, lift up the edges and form a shallow rim. In a small bowl, combine the port, honey, balsamic vinegar and the rest of the olive oil, mix until well combined. Pour the mixture over the pork and fennel, then use another foil to cover and close the sides of both foils by pressing, and sealing it closed like a parcel (so the food will be baked and steamed inside the foils).
Place the parcel on a baking sheet, and baked in the preheat oven for about 30 minutes or until the meat inside temperature registered at just over 70 degrees celsius (ca. 160 degree F) (if the pork isn’t cooked through yet, close the foils again and place it back to the oven for a future 5-10 minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and let the pork rest in the parcel (unopened) for 5 minutes.
While the pork is baking, warm up the cooked rice and combine well with the mixed olives, keep warm until it is served.
Carefully open the parcel (because of the hot steam) and slice the filet in 2 or 3 pieces, and then slice again each piece into two horizontally.
Divide olive rice on warm plates and place the pork filets and fennel on the rice, pour over the lovely sauce and served immediately.