For my Lisbon cooking class the chef, Patrícia, gave me the choice between learning how to make a bacalhau (salted cod) dish or polvo à lagareiro (baked octopus).
The decision was easy.
Bacalhau may have been first choice for many Portuguese people but I’ve been in love with octopus ever since I moved to Portugal, especially baked with potatoes and olive oil (à lagareiro).
The chance to learn from a local how to make it properly was not one I was about to pass up, especially since the cooking class was to be in her family home rather than an impersonal kitchen.
Patrícia runs Singulartrips and now works with a number of cooks who show visitors how to make traditional Portuguese dishes in their own home, all over Portugal.
“They choose a dish they are extremely good at making so each cook teaches participants their own recipe and methods. As long as it’s a typical Portuguese dish, that is all we insist on. Most of the time, it is a cod or pork dish but we can do other types of food if people request it,” she explains.
Anita and I don our aprons and squeeze around the table in Patricia’s cosy kitchen.
A plate of cheeses and breads and a bottle of white wine keep tummies from rumbling while we prepare and wait for the food to cook.
We begin by slicing onions to form a bed for the frozen lump of octopus that’s destined for the pressure cooker.
While that’s cooking, she throws half a kilo, yes, that’s right, 500 grams of salt! into the water for boiling the small potatoes in their skin. I’m horrified but her claim that they will be only slightly salty turns out to be true.
Next, we slice more onions into discs as a base layer for the roasting dish.
Once the potatoes are cooked and slightly cooled, it’s time to break the skins.
Although they are called batatas à murro, which translates as punched potatoes, they require a gentler touch.
Patrícia shows us how to press with a flat hand so that the skin splits just enough to enable the olive oil to soak into the flesh. These go around the edges of the roasting tin, on top of the onions.
Now we need the key ingredient, octopus.
Since there are 6 of us for dinner, she has precooked another two octopuses. Anita and I got to work cutting them into 2 or 3 tentacle chunks, a simple task.
Scraping the gunk out of the head is more fiddly and I have to admit that I would probably just throw it away if making this at home because I’m a) squeamish and b) shamefully wasteful.
I don’t really like the texture of the head, although Beatriz, Patricia’s daughter, seems relieved that she’ll get to have some.
We then scatter some thick slices of garlic over the top before liberally pouring olive oil over the octopus and potatoes.
The recipe Patrícia found online in English suggested using a mere 1 tablespoon of oil. “It’s impossible to only use one spoon! I use about half a bottle for this dish – you need to cover everything before it goes into the oven,” she explains, bemused.
As if there wasn’t enough oil in the baking tray, the remaining slices of garlic are to be deep fried in yet more olive oil as a ‘sauce’ to pour over the cabbage and main dish once it’s served.
Luckily, the dessert is fruit. Specifically, ‘drunk’ pears poached in red wine, port wine and sugar.
This is about as simple as it gets to prepare and we make short work of peeling the pears, rolling them in lemon juice, standing them in the pan and measuring out the required liquids and sugar.
They take longer than expected to cook, possibly because they weren’t quite ripe enough, but they taste delicious.
Earlier in the day, Patricia’s daughters had been busy making chocolate salami, which didn’t turn out quite as expected but got wolfed down all the same.
If the idea of a cooking class in a local’s home followed by dinner with them and their family appeals to you, you can arrange this experience using the form below.
You can extend this by going shopping with them at a local market or skip the cooking class and just join them for dinner.
Enquire about this type of cooking class in Lisbon and other parts of Portugal using this form.
Other Lisbon cooking classes
Concentrate on cakes, namely the famous pastel de nata custard tart
This Hands-On Pastry Cooking Class in a real Lisbon bakery will teach you the secrets of Portugal’s most famous cake, the pastel de nata custard tart, and of course, you get to eat the results of your hard work.
If you’re keen to find out about other Portuguese flavours, check out this article: 5 Droolworthy books about Portuguese food
And if you’re ever in Rome, you could have a similar experience by Cooking with Nonna among her Italian family.
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Disclosure: I attended this cooking class as a guest of Singular Trips.
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