Why It Works
- Cooking the chorizo in olive oil that's later used in the soup not only creates a crispy chorizo garnish, but also infuses the entire soup with the flavor of chorizo.
- Adding a Serrano chili to the aromatics adds a faint, pleasant chili heat to the dish.
Part of being a good cook is being a resourceful cook. And being a resourceful cook, more than anything else, means finding clever and delicious uses for things that most people throw away. Take stale bread, for instance. After my tests earlier this week to determine the best way to store bread, I found myself with an excessive amount of inedibly firm bread in my kitchen. It felt too wasteful to toss it, so I considered pulverizing it into bread crumbs. But I use breadcrumbs so rarely that I knew they'd end up going stale too, and there's no saving stale breadcrumbs (as far as I know).
Then I remembered a dish I had many years ago in Portugal, while visiting a college friend named João. João, another friend named Dan, and I were on what was the most intense bender of my life—probably because it was the only bender of my life. Five days straight of waking at noon and drinking nonstop until dawn. Beers with breakfast, bagaço (a kind of Portuguese grappa) in our coffee, wine on the beach, more bagaço and coffee, more beer. Rinse and repeat. It was great fun, in a self-destructive, sleep-deprived, dry-mouthed, temple-throbbing kind of way. Dotted throughout the nauseous blur of uninterrupted boozing, though, are vivid memories of plate after plate of amazing food, which we ate with the same intensity that we drank.
Among them all, though, the dish that left the most lasting impression on me was a hearty bread soup, garlicky and oily and packed with cilantro, cooked by João's mom as a restorative, because she knew just how poorly we were taking care of ourselves. I was in too much of a haze to ask the important questions then (What's this called? How do you make it?), so it took me years just to figure out its name, açorda à Alentejana.
I've since seen recipes that are so different, it's hard to believe they're all variations on the same dish. In some, broth is poured over large pieces of stale bread, which stay whole and soggy on the plate. In others, the bread is cooked down into a mush, with the consistency of porridge, like congee, only with bread instead of rice. The porridge version is how João's mom made it, so that's how I wanted it.
Without a good recipe to follow, I ended up inventing my own. It's definitely not authentic, but it's very tasty and comes close enough to my (albeit hazy) memory that I'm very happy with it.
To make it, I start by crisping some sliced chorizo in olive oil. I then take the chorizo out and reserve it as a garnish, but it leaves behind the most beautiful orange, chorizo-flavored oil. Then I slowly cook onion, crushed cloves of garlic, Serrano chili, and cilantro in the oil until soft and aromatic. I add some chicken stock and simmer it all together for a few minutes before adding the stale bread, crust and all, in small chunks. Depending on the type of bread and how stale it is, you may need to add more water, little by little, until the bread has almost completely broken down and formed a thick, spoonable consistency. Once it's ready, I stir in a little more minced cilantro for a fresher flavor, then ladle the açorda into bowls and top it with a poached egg, the crisp chorizo, sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Years ago, it sustained me during five days of excess; now it's a deeply satisfying meal in the name of resourcefulness. It's good both ways.
How to Poach Eggs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 ounces dry-cured Spanish style chorizo, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
6 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 small serrano chile, minced
3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, minced and divided, plus leaves for garnish
2 cups chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
8 cups cubed or torn stale Portuguese bread or baguette, with crust
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large foolproof poached eggs or sous-vide poached eggs (optional)
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisped, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chorizo to a plate and set aside.
Add onion, garlic, and serrano chili to same Dutch oven and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add two-thirds of cilantro and cook, stirring, until onions are lightly golden, about 3 minutes longer.
Add stock to pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in bread and cook, adding water as needed 1/2 cup at a time and stirring occasionally, until bread has absorbed all liquid and has almost completely broken down into a porridge-like texture, about 30 minutes. Stir in remaining minced cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon bread soup into bowls, top each with a poached egg, if using, along with sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, and crisped chorizo. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.
Dutch oven, slotted spoon
The exact amount of liquid you will need to add to the bread and the time it will take to break down will vary depending on the type of bread and how stale it is.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 25g||31%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||32%|
|Total Carbohydrate 67g||24%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||28%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|