Açorda is the Alentejo. Açorda from the Alentejo is one of the most fascinating soups of Portuguese cuisine. It is fascinating for a simplicity which allows for variations that create an “itinerary” of "açordas alentejanas". Then there are the other açordas. In the Alentejo, these other açordas are called migas. And then there are also the açordas from the coast of Estremadura, with fish and seafood, which are in fact a main dish. Basically, the “açorda Alentejana" is a broth seasoned with crushed garlic, salt and coriander. Then, there is a fundamental ingredient which is bread. Then, there are those who make açorda with cod; others who add pennyroyal. Then, then... And so begins a veritable novel based on the açorda.

For Maria de Lourdes Modesto, a true authority on the subject and Alentejana born and bred, to make the Alentejo açorda you start with coriander or pennyroyal, or both together, crushed with garlic and salt. The mixture is placed in the serving terrine then drizzled with olive oil and lots of boiling water, in which the eggs were poached. Stir the broth with a little bread and taste it. Once the broth is ready, add the bread sliced or diced with a knife or torn by hand. The poached eggs can be added at the end or on each plate individually.

From this point on the theories begin, many of them forgetting the essential, which is how each person is used to doing it or how one’s palate was educated. I am not going to dwell on the theory of cutting the bread. Every one should do as they please. However, the variations do not end here. The broth can be of boiled cod or hake, with slices of these two fish added to the açorda.

However, some authors believe that the original açorda was made with pennyroyal, and only later did coriander become popular. They also claim that the bread should be broken up by hand, not cut with a knife, so that the oil and flavours of the crushed herbs, garlic and salt infuse with the bread more.

Following competitions organised by the Confraria Gastronómica do Alentejo, in Évora, a book was published in 2011 with "the best recipes", in which there is a chapter on açordas. It presents two versions of the traditional açorda, including cod, one made with coriander, the other with coriander and pennyroyal. The recipe is essentially the same as the ones previously described but with the addition of green peppers. There is also a recipe from Serpa which includes linguiça (cured sausage), bacon and tomatoes, as well as other traditional ingredients.

For river fish açorda, you use bogas (a type of fresh water fish), pennyroyal instead of coriander and also curd cheese. In the spinach version, besides these ingredients, potatoes, bay leaves, red peppers, cod and soft sheep’s cheese are also included. Parsley açorda naturally comes with parsley, paprika, flour, bay leaves and goat’s cheese. Finally, there is a tomato açorda said to originate from Moura, with cod, tomatoes, potatoes, paprika, bay leaves, onions and Hart’s pennyroyal. In other recipe stashes I found açordas with clams, peppers, hake, allis shad and several with bacon and linguiça.

Joaquim Pulga, in his book "Alentejanando", defines the basis of the açorda as crushed coriander, garlic with olive oil, cod, green pepper, bread and poached eggs. However, he does say that açorda can be done without eggs, without peppers and without cod, and compares its simplicity "to a maiden without friperry." It can also be made with pennyroyal, Hart’s pennyroyal and sea or fresh water fish. In the Marvão region, the dish is also eaten with olives. In the book "Marvão à Mesa" this habit is not mentioned. The açorda is presented with the alternative of pennyroyal or coriander, as well as the option of using paprika.

Recently I attended the presentation of an "Açorda Alentejana" by Vitor Sobral at a congress where the influence of French cuisine in Portugal was discussed. The importance of Vitor Sobral in new Portuguese cuisine is unquestionable. He did not detract unnecessarily from the original, but rather improved and revisited it, lending it a special touch that accentuated the fundamental characteristics of the recipe and enhanced the different flavours. It was a good choice, with a serious presentation of a traditional dish that made all the senses work, and which, according to him, “is a sophisticated recipe that is truly Portuguese”. More proof of how Portuguese cuisine is as dynamic as one expects from the culinary arts. To finish off the dish, he added bunches of grapes.

Have you ever thought of enjoying wine with "açorda Alentejana"? A true challenge.

Bon Appétit!

© Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes

Photo © Adriana Freire