Portugal A to Z: T is for Tamboril

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I was going to choose “T is for Tax” to continue my A to Z of Portugal, but I decided against it. In the wake of Portugal’s 2013 budget, it all seemed rather too depressing.

So, instead I have opted for Tamboril, which (in case you don’t know) is Portuguese for monkfish.

Monkfish, an expensive treat throughout much of the world, is actually quite a standard part of the Algarve diet, and features on most restaurant menus.

Monkfish is often served as part of an espetada (kebab) with prawns. These impressive looking kebabs are usually brought to the table on a special stand, which provides something of a “wow” factor to those who haven’t seen one before. Often the large chunks of monkfish are wrapped in bacon or presunto.

Monkfish also appears in arroz de tamboril, a monkfish rice dish usually cooked in a cataplana, the hinged metal clamshell cooking container that you see all over the Algarve.

Ugly Monkfish
Ugly Monkfish

Fresh monkfish takes some preparation. Gutting one involves turning it inside-out, and up to 75% of the fish’s weight can be within its head. I recently had the privilege of watching the whole cleaning and filleting process – from market stall to professional chef – when I attended a cooking class at the Vila Vita hotel.

Filleting monkfish
Filleting monkfish

Shortly after we arrived in Portugal, we tried to buy some fresh monkfish cubes to make a recipe, and pointed at one of the whole, ugly beasts on the supermarket fish counter. Luckily the serving lady took pity on us – she showed us just how expensive buying it in this way would be, and let us into the secret of how many Portuguese people really buy it: in great big inexpensive fillets, straight from the freezer at a fraction of the cost.

I’ve even found a photo of what we made with it back then in 2009!

Monkfish wrapped in Parma ham
Monkfish wrapped in Parma ham

On the subject of 2009, we’ve recently passed our third anniversary of being in Portugal, so I’d like to say a big thank you to all of those people who have followed our Portuguese adventure from the beginning. Those a bit newer to our story may be interested in our book:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

US readers can find it here.

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