To Portugal… Once again improvisation and unconventional cooking methods are the real friends in my annual tribute to the world’s longest-running song contest. You know, the one that really wants us all to be friends.

39 points. That’s how you reward a host country.

May 2018, and about 370 million eyes fell on the capital of Portugal, where friendly neighbours lined up to vote her hosting ability a whole and crucial digit under 40 points. For some, a sign of huge success. As the salient knowledge goes, whispered among the continent’s cognoscenti, no country willing to win the competition two years in a row has any damn right to be there in the first place. As if to ram that point home, 2018 saw a mini-resurgence from Ireland. Although tellingly not strong enough to win them the Contest once again. That ship’s long sailed, but thanks for the thought guys.

In the event, Portugal’s pummelling to the muddy sole of the table was soon lost in the fervour of Israel’s triumph. And naturally another favourite mantra: ‘It’s not really in Europe, but at least it’s not Australia, right?’

Meanwhile, perplexed American tweets slowly switched on to #Eurovision. How quickly they forget.

Yes, it’s Eurovision alright.

But for all the things that stay the same, there are many that change. On stage, pixels were replaced with props. Overtly political voting patterns gave way to an unusually open finale, no doubt thanks to some of the major players who fell in the semi-finals. And as if that wasn’t change enough, my annual gastronomic tribute duly flew to the glamour to the Iberian peninsula.

Mindless absurdity, cringeworthy politicism, a feat of satellite-delayed style over substance. And that’s just in my kitchen. And as with many European projects, all a good deal better than throwing grenades across No Man’s Land.

No need for gimmicks. the rules remain the same.

An annual concoction of a dish or two inspired by the host country and something I’ve never made before. After a mass of undercooked Swedish meatballs and rollmop, ah rollmop, that met Stockholm 2016. After last year’s intriguing twist on Ukranian Borscht, and a valuable experiment into eat-by-dates (minimal), attention has shifted to the south of the continent. It remains a triumph of compromise and luck. And bloody great to eat.

Portuguese Steamed Clams

Well, this is where mussels stepped into the breach, packed in with 1.5lb of chorizo, a large onion and tomatoes, swimming in a balanced stew of white wine (2 cups) and olive oil (1/4 cup). Cooked in 20 minutes, served with Vinho Verde, naturally. 

Portuguese chicken and potatoes

A generic choice, but pitched nicely against the pork and seafood brew above. Effectively piri piri chicken, taking its name from the sauce, and the labour intensive chilli cultivated across many African countries. Here the spice came from dried ancho chillies, rehydrated and liberally applied to a bed of red potatoes and a spatchcocked chicken (or borboleta’d as no one ever calls it). Conjuring up the latter is not something to do when introduced to somebody new, but I managed it. Any sense of immense sense of immense achievement is also liable to be quashed when someone says, “yeah, it’s not that hard” (thanks mum).

The lightly boiled chillies I pesteled into a marinade with two tablespoons of paprika, six-plus cloves of garlic (always use more), fresh coriander, pepper, salt and red wine vinegar. A blender would have been more convenient, but not as much fun.

The beauty of a butterflied chicken is in its quick roasting. 20 minutes one way, on the potato bed, 20-30 minutes the other, before a final 15 minutes splattered with the remaining marinade. An artistic dish, but one that tastes marginally better than it looks, maximising flavour over spice.

Served with a cilantro sauce – a cup of plain yoghurt combined with finely chopped coriander, pepper, salt and a heady mix of lemon juice and olive oil.

My usual ‘cauldron cooking’ style found its best fit yet… Portugal, and Eurovision 2018, done. See you in 12-months for an Israeli spectacular, where hopefully the world’s still in one piece, ‘post-Brexit…’

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