As I was doing some research on Portuguese food for one of my writing projects, I came across a simple recipe which makes use of one of the most delicious summer produces – tomatoes – and they are in season currently and are sold abundantly. Although they are available all year round but the summer tomatoes are definitely more flavorful as they ripen beneath the summer sun, grow into pleasantly sweet, aromatic and succulent fruits that are bursting with flavour. It is hard to imagine not to enjoy these jewels as much as we can throughout the high of summer when they are at their best.
I remember how much I fond of many tomato based dishes in Portuguese/Macanese cuisine when I was growing up in Macau: Feijoada, tomato cream soup, stew seafood with chorizo, pan-fried whole fish then braised in rich tomato sauce (this was one of my mother’s specialties), etc. One of my absolute favorites was baked pork chop with rice (it is more like a local Macau special), long grain rice cooked perfectly in tomato paste and then topped with a crispy fried pork chop in breadcrumb, then covered with an extra layer of starchy tomato sauce, baked in the oven until crusty on top. The rice is toothsome and pairs well with the crispy yet tender pork chop, the top layer of tomato sauce is silky and pungent, just the right element to tie all the flavours beautifully together, this dish has been one of the most famous and beloved dishes in Macau food history.
A nostalgic memory turns into today’s wonderful recipe, a simple rice dish that is bursting with flavour of sun-ripen tomatoes, enriched by sweet onions, bay leaf and smokey bacon, every grain of rice has unapologetically absorbed the luscious tomato sauce. No wonder it is one of the most popular rice dishes in Portugal, which traditionally served as a side for meat or seafood. Although I quite like eating it just as it is for a no-fuss-meal and to fully appreciate its glorious taste; or top the rice with a perfectly fried egg and a side of buttered green beans for a more balance and satisfactory meal.
Note: My cooking method is by no mean traditional, I studied several methods and I came up with this version. I have done an extra step (versus the tradition way) after the rice is cooked on the stove: a 10-15 minutes grilled under the oven broiler will crisp up the top layer of the rice, enhancing the taste and the texture of the overall dish, it is a step that I highly recommend you take because it really worth the extra effort.
Arroz de Tomate
Inspired by Portuguese tomato rice recipes from foodrepublic.com, about.com
- 500g ripe tomato (in season, otherwise, use can tomato)
- 100g diced bacon
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tbsp. of ground sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 500ml Chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
- 250g Basmati Rice, washed and drained
- a small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- Fried egg
- Green salad
- Buttered green beans (or any green)
To prepare the tomato, slice an ‘x’ across the top and bottom of the tomatoes, put them into a heat proof bowl or small sauce pan, submerge the tomatoes with boiling water. Cover and stand for a minute. Transfer the tomatoes into ice water. Now careful peel off the skin and roughly chop the tomatoes (seeds and water/juice) and transfer them to a bowl, set aside.
Heat a glug of olive oil in a rimmed cast iron pan (or something similar that can be place under the oven grill), soften the onions and garlic on medium high heat for about a minute. Add bacon and fry for another couple of minutes until the bacon take on a nice brown colour.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, black pepper, paprika and bay leaf. Use a wooden spatula to break down some of the bigger tomato pieces and cover the pan with a lid, let the mixture, simmer in medium low heat for 15-20 minutes. Stir and break down any remaining larger tomato pieces once or twice during cooking.
Add the drained rice to the pan and mix them well with the tomato sauce. Pour in the hot chicken stock and combine everything well with the spatula. Bring to boil and then turn the heat down to simmer, covered and cook for about 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed by the rice. Turn the heat down to very low and let the rice sit and rest (covered) for a further 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven grill to high. Remove the lid from the pan and place it under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until the top of the rice is nice and crispy. Remove from the oven and scatter chopped fresh basil on the rice.
Served as a side with meat or fish, or simply topped with a fried egg and a green salad to make it as a main dish.