We cannot speak of Portuguese gastronomy without mentioning sausages. From chorizo to black pudding, through farinheira, no one refuses a good sausage.
But among the various sausages, there are two that we can find only in Portugal: the alheira and the farinheira. The difference with the other sausages is in the fact that, when they were invented, these two sausages were produced without pork. Nowadays the original recipe is not always respected, but in its origin the farinheira was prepared with flour, wine and spices and the alheira with game or poultry meat, bread and spices.
But what is the origin of the idea of producing a chorizo without pork?
The story begins in 1492, when Fernando de Aragão and his wife, Queen Isabel of Castile, conquered the last Moorish bastion of the Iberian Peninsula – Granada – and invaded the Alhambra Palace. Profound Catholics, kings believed that practicing Jews could encourage those who converted to Christianity to return to their original religion. They hired interrogators to pursue Jews in their kingdom: we are talking about the Spanish Inquisition.
Faced with the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish Jews fled to Portugal, where King D. João II gave him hospitality until the 16th century. At the time of the Great Navigations, the Jews played an important role in the discoveries in Portugal, collaborating with the opening of new maritime and commercial routes.
This was the main reason for D. João II to allow refugees to enter in the Portuguese territory. The number surpassed 120 thousand people, according to the official site of the country’s Jewish Network. Some went to stay and others used Portugal as a transit.
With nowhere to go, the Jews of the Iberian peninsula found a way to circumvent the punishments of kings by pretending to be Christians. Thus, they participated in the Masses, discussed excerpts from the Bible and wrote their texts in Hebrew, never in Aramaic. From 1496, Portuguese Jews were also forced to convert or, alternatively, to leave the country. For the next ten years, more conservative citizens killed Jews daily. In 1536, the Inquisition formally arrived in Portugal and both Jews and converted Jews (the so-called New Christians) were captured and burned alive on the pyre, in front of a sea of people, in Rossio.
Jews began to hide and form communities in which they pretended to be Christians: they wrote in Hebrew and pretended Catholic rituals so as not to arouse suspicion.
But in Trás-os-Montes, the disguise was more original.
One of the main ways that members of the Inquisition had to discover fugitives was to understand whether they ate pork or not – because the Jewish religion forbids their consumption. In Mirandela, 426 km from Lisbon, it was common for families to leave bunches of pork sausages outdoors and, thus, it was easy to identify “foreigners”. The Jews then created a “sausage” made with bread and chicken, which looked like the traditional pork sausage, the alheira, which deceived royal officials for many years.
The original recipes demand many pieces of bread, because it was the way found by the Jews to give consistency to the sausage. Inside it were beef, chicken, rabbit, turkey or duck. Then, when the inquisition ended, the alternative sausage would have fallen in the use of the Iberian Christians themselves, who started to eat it and incorporated it into typical dishes – today, it is considered one of the seven gastronomic wonders of Portugal.
And from the Trás-os-Montes mountains it spread to the rest of the country.
Nowadays, the alheira is served with french fries, rice and a fried egg on top.