What is romantic food? Perhaps this is a way too broad concept and, certainly, rather subjective. But, generally speaking, we’d say romantic food is one that is appropriate to order or cook on a date (forget about anything with squid ink!), easy to share with your lover (think bite sized foods versus massive ribs you’d be better off eating with your hands while getting messy…) and, if possible, with some aphrodisiac potential.
Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is a major celebration around the world and, besides exchanging gifts, one of the activities couples engage in the most is having dinner together. While many choose to go out, perhaps splurging on something a little special you may otherwise not be able to afford during the rest of the year (like one of Lisbon’s Michelin starred restaurants), others prefer to cook at home. We’re with the latter, as we believe there’s nothing more romantic than having someone cook for you in a more intimate setting.
When you think about typical Portuguese food, hearty dishes like cozido à Portuguesa (a boiled dinner of mixed meats and vegetables), garlic loaded alheira sausage or grilled fish may come to mind. Perhaps not the most romantic of foods. But, fear not, as even if you'd like to celebrate Valentine's Day with a romantic dinner Portuguese style, there are recipes you can opt for and which we can help you to easily make at home.
1. Start off with some espumante
First things first, choose a good wine to warm up the ambience. But, oh wait, shouldn't this be chosen according to the food menu? Not if we’re talking about a glass of wine as an appetizer. While you make dinner, it can be a good idea to start warming things up by enjoying a glass of espumante, that is, Portuguese sparkling wine.
Portuguese vinho espumante could somehow be compared to Spanish cava, Italian prosecco or French champagne - are you starting to feel the romantic vibes, yet? Choose an espumante bruto, that is, a dry sparkling wine whose sweetness won’t be overpowering and which you can easily keep drinking when the food is served. Bubbles are for lovers and, not only can this type of drink be brilliant on its own to let the festivities begin, it can also be great paired with appetizers…
2. Portuguese appetizers for Valentine’s Day
If you’re cooking a romantic Portuguese meal for your loved one, we would highly encourage you to look into the vast repertoire of Portuguese seafood recipes. Good options would be amêijoas à bulhão pato, clams in a tangy and buttery sauce flavored with fresh cilantro - see recipe below! Steamed or grilled seafood can also be a good idea, but try not to choose something like crab which will take a bit of effort to break and eat. You wouldn't want your romantic dinner spoiled while having crab shell pieces flying all over the place…
If everything else fails, raw oysters are known to be a favorite for this kind of meal, as they have aphrodisiac powers. This is not a myth, as science actually backs up that oysters have amino acids which can stimulate sexual desire in both men and women. No wonder oysters are often referred to “as the food of love”. In Portugal, you’ll find oysters which are produced abroad but we’d encourage you to understand where the products you purchase come from and, as often as possible, choose local. There’s high quality oyster production in Aveiro, in the Sado river near Setúbal (very close to Lisbon) and also in the Algarve, namely in Ria formosa.
If you’re not fond of seafood, take it easy and prepare a cheese and charcuterie platter with some of Portugal’s best products. Not only does the taste but also the smell of some cheeses increase levels of dopamine in the brain, the range of regional Portuguese cheeses is so wide and there truly is something for all tastes. If you like rich pungent cheeses, choose queijo da Serra da Estrela or queijo de Azeitão, both prepared with raw sheep milk, and which are usually scooped out of the shell and spread rather than sliced. If you prefer sharp and mildly spicy cow milk cheeses, queijo de São Jorge from the Azores, with a protected designation of origin, certainly is a delight. Goat cheeses are also abundant in Portugal, with particular highlights of queijo de cabra Transmontano, from the northern mountainous region of Trás-os-Montes, as well as those made in Castelo Branco or Beira Baixa (all with PDO status). As Portugal is the land of enchidos, that is, cured meats mostly prepared with pork (but not exclusively), as you can imagine it won't be hard to complete your cheese and charcuterie platter. Make sure you have some good bread and crackers and celebrate life’s little pleasures with your loved one!
3. What should I cook as a main for a romantic dinner?
As a main meal during a romantic dinner, we’d suggest choosing something that is not too heavy. Not only would you want to save a little room for dessert to round things off, you’d also want to feel energized but light enough, so that you don’t get too sleepy and sink into the couch after dinner. After all, dinner should only be the first step of a magical evening together!
We would suggest grills which you can easily finish on the spot (like a simple but well cooked steak, perhaps with a reduction of Port wine for an elegant touch) or, even better, oven-baked dishes which you can prepare in advance and keep warm in the oven ready to serve when the moment comes. It’s a great idea to impress your lover with your cooking skills, but you wouldn’t want to make such a complicated menu that you end up spending more time in the kitchen than hanging out with who really matters. Delicious Portuguese recipes you can prepare in the oven include duck rice (arroz de pato), creamy cod and potatoes (bacalhau com natas) or roasted pork loin with plums (lombo de porco assado com ameixas - pictured here).
Do you feel overwhelmed with the idea of making such a meal from scratch by yourself? Join our Michelin Secrets cooking class and learn not only how to make impressive recipes yourself, but also plate for a WOW effect! Some of the recipes we teach during this experience include oysters with cilantro and pineapple, Iberian pork loin with pickled mushrooms, salted cod confit with explosive olives, and our elevated version of pudim Abade de Priscos, a classic of the Portuguese dessert repertoire, here served with crispy bacon and lemon foam.
4. Portuguese romantic desserts
If chocolate is a classic during romantic gatherings it’s for a reason! A lot of people crave a little chocolate when feeling moody and would like a pick-me-up, and there’s actual science behind this. Chocolate has aphrodisiac qualities, namely, it contains the chemicals phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are thought to be mood boosters and mild sexual stimulants.
Lucky, even though Portuguese desserts do tend to revolve more about egg yolks and sugar (like the lovely sericaia, pictured here), we do still have a few options with chocolate. For Valentine' Day we’d recommend a fairly straight forward chocolate mousse, which can easily be prepared in advance and kept inside the fridge, but in this case with a Portuguese touch of olive oil and fleur de sel. Intrigued? See the recipe below!
BONUS RECIPE 1 - Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, aka Portuguese tangy clams
Ingredients for 2 people:
1 garlic clove
15ml olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and chili flakes for seasoning to taste
Making this classic Portuguese clam appetizer is actually pretty easy and quick. Start the process by making sure your clams are well washed and there’s no leftover sand inside the shells. For this, you can put the clams inside a bowl with plenty of water and some salt, and let them sit for a while. Rinse them under cold running water and you’re ready to start the actual cooking process!
Peel the garlic clove and mince it finely. Heat a pot on the stove, with the olive oil and butter, until the butter melts. Add the garlic and saute in low heat, stirring to make sure the garlic doesn't burn or gets bitter.
Add the drained clams to the pot, season with salt to taste and a gentle touch of chili flakes (swap for black pepper if you prefer a milder dish, but keep in mind that chili contains capsaicin, which is a chemical known to boost testosterone levels and increase libido!) and allow it to cook for a few minutes. You’ll know the clams are ready when the shells naturally open up.
Finish off by adding chopped cilantro, the lemon juice and taste to check if the salt level is to your taste. If not, you can add a tad more. Remove from the heat and serve right away.
BONUS RECIPE 2 - Chocolate mousse with olive oil and fleur de sel
Ingredients for 2 people:
70g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
25g grams confectioners sugar
60ml olive oil
Fleur de sel to taste
If you are a fan of chocolate desserts, this mousse will surprise you!
Start by melting the chocolate slowly in a bath water, that is, in a bowl inside a pot with boiling water (not directly on the pot that is above the stove’s heat). Keep string to make sure your chocolate dissolves evenly and doesn’t get burnt. Once the chocolate is melted, mix in the olive oil.
In parallel prepare your eggs, separating the yolks from the whites. Beat the whites to a stiff peak (add a touch of salt to aid in this process). Use the same whisk to, in a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and the powdered sugar, until the mix is white(ish) and very creamy.
Add the cooled down melted chocolate with the olive oil into the bowl with the egg yolks and the sugar. Make sure the ingredients are combined. Afterwards, add the whisked egg whites to achieve a fluffy mousse texture until all ingredients blend in with each other, but without overmixing - you wouldn’t want to lose the cloudy consistency.
Let the mousse rest inside the fridge for at least an hour. To serve, spoon out some mousse into a pretty serving plate, drizzle with luscious olive oil and sprinkle with fleur de sel delicately. The contrast of sweet and salty, as well as the intensity of the chocolate paired with the richness of the olive oil, will make your mouth salivate and will blow your mind!
From everyone at Cooking Lisbon, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day and may you keep the romantic spirit alive all year long. If you cook a romantic Portuguese meal for your loved one, please share your photos with us via Instagram, tagging #cookinglisbon