Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Making Refogado—Portugal's Basic Sauce

Recently, my mom made a refogado -- THE sauce/paste that forms the basis of most Portuguese cooking. Typically, you cook onions in olive oil for 10 minutes, then add garlic & cook for 10 more minutes, then add tomatoes & cook for an additional 10 minutes -- all over LOW heat. However, about 10-15 minutes BEFORE cooking the onions, my mom had started the tomato part of the sauce in a separate pot. And she cooked the onions as well as the tomatoes in olive oil AND butter. You don't need much fat because the onion "sweats" & releases its own liquid.

After the onions had cooked for approximately 10 minutes, my mom added chopped garlic to the onion pot. After approximately 15 minutes of cooking onions (& 30 mins of cooking tomatoes), she combined the tomatoes & onions/garlic into one dish. Spices added were piri pir (hot sauce) & colorau, which is similar to Hungarian paprika, another Portuguese staple. Then she added the shrimp, which only takes a few minutes to cook, but my mom let it sit in the pot for 10-20 minutes to soak in the sauce. At the end of cooking, she added chopped parsley, fresh from the garden.

I tried to make the more traditional version: 10 minutes onions (low heat, covered pan to let the onions sweat out their liquid to create a thin sauce); 10 minutes garlic; 10 minutes chopped tomatoes from my mom’s garden. I peeled & seeded the tomatoes, but my mom doesn’t bother. If you cut the tomato finely, it shouldn’t matter, but if you use big chunks of unpeeled tomato, the skin falls off into sauce.

To de-peel & un-seed, I boiled water & dropped in tomatoes--with top stem & pithy part cut out--for one minute & then grabbed the skin off in blocks. I cut tomatoes in half & scooped liquidy part into a small sieve over a cup.

You could discard the tomato liquid, but I wanted to save it to put back into the water in which I boiled tomatoes & use that to later make a soup. Portuguese country people of my mom’s generation are super frugal & upteen frugal habits sunk it. I cringe at the word “discard” in recipes & try to use EVERYthing, which, by the way, is a great creativity exercise. Take the vegetables from the stock I made for my previous blog. I was supposed to discard them, but I couldn’t do it. I later pureed the onion & celery & that was basis of a creamy spicy garbanzo soup.

Back to refogado. I used the refogado base to create a shrimp pasta sauce. I added a 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes w/ liquid, heated to boil, then simmered for “a while.” I added frozen, cooked shrimp—on the theory it would heat in sauce & not become tough, but shrimp released lots of water into the sauce & messed up the consistency. Condensation in action. Ooops. The sauce wasn’t adhering to the linguine. So I took out the shrimp & dumped sauce into a blender, pureed it, & re-heated in sauce pan. Voila, mistake de-mistaked. So, umm, defrost frozen shrimp first & drain the water. Perhaps pat dry shrimp too. That way shrimp can absorb sauce liquid instead of diluting it.

Here's a section from my mom's garden. Tomatoes grow upside-down in flowered planter. Frugality in action: my dad re-used the frame of an old glass table to serve as a trellis for growing vines/stalks.


  1. Refogado! Ok, there was a recipe for duck rice at the Spanish Table weekly newsletter and it sounded good, but I didn't understand refogado immediately. Now i do.

  2. Thank you my husband is from Lisbon and I needed the Portugal recipe for this! :-) YAY!!