Today the crisp and cool spring weather reminded me of the day I traveled through the Serra da Estrela mountains in northern Portugal several years ago. This mountain range is really the only true one that Portugal has, and on that day it seemed perfect to me. I remember that, and the most perfectly delicious trout I ever ate while there! The Portuguese are masters of fish preparation, but this non-ocean fish dish was beyond mastery.
We drove on small paved roads through the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela that twisted in between pine forests--not the big, tall pine trees I am used to seeing in northern New England, but smaller and more twisted ones. We drove past sparkling clean brooks. It was the kind of day that was warm when you stood in the sun, but chilly the moment you stepped into the shade.
When lunchtime rolled around, we stopped at the Pousada de Manteigas, São Lourenço. The Pousadas of Portugal are wonderful hotels, often built inside of historic castles. This one was newer construction, but had been built to look like a typical mountain shelter of the region.
Upon being seated we were immediately bombarded by waiters and our host who fussed and cooed over my then infant daughter, Adelaide. This happened in almost every restaurant we visited while in Portugal. Sometimes waiters would even sit down and feed her so that we could eat unencumbered!
I wanted to eat something representative of the region, so after hugging and kissing the baby, the waiter recommended the trout, caught from one of the bubbling mountain brooks we had driven past. We started off with Vinho de Verde and some soup, which I am sure was delicious, but was so completely overshadowed by the dish that followed, that I can't even remember what kind it was.
The trout, when it arrived, was deceptively simple looking. It appeared to be a plain piece of filleted trout, next to a lemon wedge and a bed of rice. But then I bit into it and could not believe the gorgeous flavor! It seemed to be to be the quintessential trout preparation. It was moist, hot and delicately flavored with garlic. I ate every last bit of it.
I asked the waiter to tell me the secret to its perfection. "It's just olive oil, salt and garlic," he told me. "Nothing else!"
When I got back to the U.S. it wasn't long before I tried to duplicate it at home. After a couple of tries, I think I came up with a pretty good copy! Check out my recipe for Broiled Trout, Serra da Estrela Style.