This dry-cured ham of Portugal has few equals. Its supremacy comes from allowing the pigs to gorge themselves for up to sixty days on cork oak acorns before meeting their fate, as well as from the laborious process of quicksalting, rinsing, long-term salting, and natural airdrying. This leaves the sublimely silky meat a deep red purple with superb marbling, ringed by a layer of opalescent ivory fat. The country’s two nest areas for presunto production are the towns of Chaves and Lamego, in the Trás-os-Montes region in the north, which rubs its hams with a coating of sweet paprika and olive oil before smoking; and the Alentejo, in the south, which prefers to keep its hams uncoated and unsmoked. For the Alentejan presunto, the hoof is left on to prove it comes from the famous porco preto, or black pig. Presunto is served in thin slices on its own, in sandwiches, and alongside fresh fruit. It’s also used in cooking to add a depth of flavor and a bit of a salty bite. Unfortunately, because Portugal is still grappling with the United States over exporting presunto here, you’ll have to settle for some excellent domestic versions (see Sources) or you can substitute Spain’s jamón serrano (serrano ham) or Italy’s prosciutto di Parma. Note: If the cured ham you get is too salty, soak it in cold water for 5 minutes. Also, some of these recipes call for a ⅛- or ¼-inch-thick slice of presunto. Depending on what part of the leg it’s cut from, and therefore how big the piece, you may not need all of it for the recipe. It’ll keep for several weeks in the refrigerator or up to two months in the freezer, tightly wrapped. Add it to cheese platters, omelets, or salads, or cut it into small cubes, fry, and sprinkle on baked potatoes.
GARLIC alho (ahl-yoo) The Portuguese can’t put enough garlic cloves, called dentes, or teeth, into their dishes. It’s even part of refogado (see Lightly Sautéed Onions and Garlic), the foundation for nearly every savory dish in the Portuguese repertoire. Forget buying pre-minced stu . Buy heads that feel rm and full for their size. If you happen to slice into a clove and see a slender green tendril, called the germ, growing in the middle, pop it out with the tip of the knife. It makes for a bitter bite.