Many people ask us how we get through winter with only the locally available food. And that is not really about the food for the hot evening meals, als pretty much everything we are used to in the supermarkets of Northern and Western Europe is available in Madeira. It is more about bread, which is quite different from your typically available rolls and loaves, and even more about the cold cuts we, as Dutchmen, are used to and need to make the open sandwiches we have for breakfast or lunch in our native country.
Over the ten years that we have been living here (in winter), there has been a considerable evolution in the collection available in the food shops. Initially not for the better: a very well sorted supermarket of a small chain, which had its home here in Madeira, the ‘Sá’, went bankrupt after the ferry service disappeared and the high transport rates of the remaining monopolist turned out to be too much for Sá.
Not too long after that, the large Portuguese supermarket chain Pingo Doce (sweet penguin) was bought by Dutch Ahold holding company, who owns the top segment Albert Heijn supermarket chain in the Netherlands. That had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the supply of dried herbs and spices has improved a lot. But things like soy sauce and typical Indonesian hot pepper ‘sambal’ are still not available since the disappearance of the Sá. They used to have a large assortment of Timorese products where you could find many ingredients for the Indonesian ‘Rice Table’, which has found its place in Dutch cuisine. Disadvantage of the transfer into Dutch hands of the Pingo Doce is that a terrible Albert Heijn habit was adopted by Pingo Doce: keeping vegetables wet to make them look fresher. The result is that they will rot in your fridge in no time. Not a surprise that we prefer to buy our fruit and vegetables at the local Sunday market, where fortunately they don’t prctice this nonsense. What you buy there is super fresh and indeed very cheap.
So, in general, we can buy everything we need here. The supply of meat and fish is great, fresh and often at very low prices. We have a preference for ‘regional’ when it comes to chicken: no hormones and no antibiotics. Costs: often less than 2 euros per kilo, for a free (mountain) range chicken’ (it’s a steep island) that doesn’t taste like fishmeal for once and has little fat.
bread and rolls: what is available in Madeira?
But we were supposed to be talking about bread and cold cuts really, and whether or not we could buy what we want in Madeira. Now that is a very far cry from what we are used to in the Netherlands. The assortment of bread has improved a lot in the last couple of years, there is a wide range of different kinds and different shapes of bread, both white and brown, and square shaped bread for toasting.
But if we want a really nice loaf of bread, especially white bread, Noud will go and play in his kitchen. He uses fresh yeast, because the dry yeast often doesn’t work here. When buying fresh yeast you have to pay close attention to the date on it, to prevent that after a long time of kneading you have a loaf of bread that doesn’t rise.
But if all goes well, it will. The bread has to rise in a lukewarm oven, because in our house, which is not heated during the day, there may be a cool airflow that is not good for a rising dough. Today we were very lucky. When the dough was rising, Noud was already worried about it dropping over the side of its baking mold. That just didn’t happen, but during baking the bread became ridiculously high. After measuring it, it turned out to be more than 20 centimeters.
In addition to homemade bread we have all kinds of delicious local bread in Madeira, such as the local ‘baguette rústica’, a brown baguette that is very tasty, the standard rolls called ‘papo seco’, which really have to be fresh, otherwise they get chewy. Then there is the famous ‘bolo de caco’, a kind of loaf baked on a steel plate, the dough of whch partly consists of potato or sweet potato, delicious, but quite heavy. It is often used as a simple appetizer at the table, then it is richly spread with garlic-parsley butter. A slightly lighter variety is the ‘pão de Santana’ or the tasty ‘padeirinhas’ that we buy at a small local super. There is really too much to mention. There are croissants, but we buy the frozen bake-off croissants made in Belgium, which are really good, the rest is at best reasonable.
cold cuts: buying or making?
But we promides to talk aboout bread and cold cuts..Once the bread is there, we want to worry about whatever we want to put on it, and wether we can buy that here in Madeira. Of course, there is ham. There is cured ham, called presunto. And then there is Yorkshire ham, or something like it, called fiambre. There is salami, but its not all kinds are very tasty. And you can buy different sorts of indifferent cold meats, with equally indifferent flavours. Only the ‘mortaldela’ is quite nice, if you like this kind of thing. But whoever wants cold Roast Beef cuts, or smoked or roast pork, or even boiled liver, really needs to retreat into the kitchen. Of course, all of this is very much based on our Dutch national tastes and habits. But we imagine every nation has its own habits, and if you want to eat ‘like at home’ every now and then, you have to improvise.
which meat for your cold cuts?
The biggest problem is to find out what kind of meat you need . The butchers here have a different way of cutting from what we are used to. And if you don’t know how the different parts of the animal are called, it may be quite complicated to get what you need. Prepacked meat is only available in a very limited choice, so you have to ask the butcher in your shop. Most of them do speak reasonable English, but you still need to know what the meat you need is called. For Roast Beef, Noud usually buys Ganso or Alcatra. Not quite what one would use for a roast, but it comes close enough in stucture and the taste is delicious. Noud really looks at the shape: it must be a highish piece of meat. Of course, you need a decent recipe and you want to watch the oven temperature and cooking time if you don’t want to eat shoe leather. Consult the recipe to get the herbs and spices right, but that goes for any cooking. This week, we wanted a typical Dutch (and German) sort of brined and smoked pork, called Cassel Rib. For this, we found that the best meat to use is the part of the pig called lombo de porco. It is located on the back of the animal. We found it fun to try and find out how exactly to process the meat to get a real Cassel Rib. It needs to be brined first. That is not very difficult, but again, you need a decent recipe to know the quantity of salt and the time it needs to cure. Once cured, it has to be dried and smoked. We do have a small smoking oven, so that was easy to do. For a pork roast we use the same kind of meat. It should really be trom the leg, but as they cut meat differently here, it is not easy to get. Preparing isn’t complicated if you know how to do this kind of thing.
Boiled liver isn’t a delicacy for everyone, but I love it. As long as we have been in Madeira I have been trying to find a good recipe, which I finally did last year. Only this liver isn’t boiled but poached. Pepper and salt the liver, roll it into plastic foil and poch it in water of about 80 degrees Celsius. Approximately 40 minutes for half a kilo. If you have a meat thermometer, it will come in handy. The temperature inside needs to be 65-68 Celsius. Once it has reached this, take the liver out of the water and let it cool. If you overcook it, it will be too hard and chewy. We have a slicer here, whch makes it easy to thinly slice any meat we want to use as cold cuts. It’s not in the standard equipment of the house, as it is a bit vulnerable and tricky to use, so we put it away whenever the house is rented out.
Paté’s and ‘terrines’ are easy to make. Noud has a number of recipes, often based on chicken livers. Not only easy to make, but they can serve perfectly as starters for dinner
Jams and jellies for your bread
After talking aboout bread and cold cuts, to put on our bread, we may want something sweet. With all the delicious fruit growing in this island you can, of course, make the most fantastic jams and jellies. They sell many unknown (to us) sorts here in Madeira, made from tomatoes to sweet potatoes and anything in between. We love guava jelly and jam made of the mandarines (not quite tangerines) growing in our garden. But there are also araçais, a sort of mini guava with a different taste, passion fruit from our garden and the lemons from our tree that mak excellent jams or jellies. So, we always have our own home made jams. Not because there is little choice here, because there isnt, but simply because it’s fun to make and very tasty. We simply save all empty pots, and because the taste and smells are so distinct, we often don’t even bother to remove the old labels.
cheese for your home made bread
I am not a great cheese lover, but Noud is. Virtually all dairy products available here come from the Azores, which are specialised in dairy farming. There is plenty on offer, and there is no problem whatsoever to survive on that during your holidays. But those who stay here longer may crave a slice of ‘home cheese’ for a change from the rather bland azores cheeses. Having said that, the São Jorge (says Noud) is quite tasty, but it looses its flavour soon after you open the package. Anyway, he simply has to ask arriving guests to bring him some of his favourite Dutch (Lidl or Aldi bought) cheese from the Netherlands. He insists a slice of home baked white bread with Dutch cheese is the ultimate delicacy. I prefer my bread with some cold cuts or jam.
try at home?
We can imagine no-one in his right mind would want to make his/her own bread, spreads and cold cuts when on an always too short holiday in Madeira. Especially where there is more than enough available in Madeira in enough variety for a stay of only a couple of weeks. But those who would like to try some of these things at home: just drop us a line below if you would like us to point you to a good recipe.