Jean Anderson is a member of 'old school' cookbook authors and culinary educators such as Barbara Kafka, Marion Cunningham, Sheila Lukins, and Sara Moulton who edit major cookbooks such as the 'American Century Cookbook' and the 'Fanny Farmer Cookbook' and who edit major newspaper columns, all addressed to the average American family member who needs to cook and who doesn't have a lot of time to go out of their way to find culinary advice.
On what seems to be the strength of an exceptionally strong personal love for Portugal and its food, Ms. Anderson has also joined the ranks of interpreters of important national cuisines such as Diane Kochilas (Greece), Penelope Casas (Spain), Lydia Bastianich (Italy) and Nancy Harmon Jenkins (Mediterranean). While Ms. Anderson has written about both Portuguese and German cooking, the interest in the latter seems to be simply another job, while the interest in the former is based on a lifetime of affection for this cuisine.
Each of the four other interpreters of selected regional cuisines take a somewhat different approach to interpreting their subject. For example, Ms. Kochilas deals with Greece by region, as there are major variations in cuisine from Macedonia to the Dodecanese Islands. Ms. Jenkins and other writers dissect Italy and the Mediterranean by major food resource such as salt, olives, grapes, and wheat. Ms. Anderson's approach is most similar to that of Lydia Bastianich, with the difference that Ms. Anderson has no stories of a childhood growing up in Portugal. Both Ms. Bastianich and Ms. Anderson focus on the characteristic recipe methods of their subject.
Portugal should probably be considered an honorary Mediterranean country. It has no coastline on the Mediterranean, however, it's all of its principle foods were identified by Nancy Harmon Jenkins in 'The Essential Mediterranean'. These are olives, grapes, pork, salt, seafood, milk, and beans. Only wheat appears to be missing from the major staples, as Portugal seems to not have the land for wheat fields like Apulia or Egypt. The very first thing Ms. Anderson points out is that Portuguese cuisine is not the same as Spanish cuisine. The differences can easily be traced to the differences in exploration and colonization in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While Spain was playing catch-up with the daring westerly trip of Columbus, Portugal was well on its way to establishing trade with India, China, and the'Spice Islands' by way of the route around the bottom of Africa. Ms. Anderson cements the notion of these differences by opening with a truly daunting dictionary of Portuguese culinary terms. The highlights of this catalogue are 'Acordas' and 'Migas' (Dry soups and stews); 'Bacalhau' (Dried Salt Cod); cheeses (lots of these), coffees (note that former Portuguese colonies, Brazil, Angola, and Timor are all important coffee producers); egg sweets; fish and shellfish; herbs, spices, and flavorings (almonds, paprika, and pimento are distinctly important); olive oils; sausages and hams (with analogues to many of the famous Spanish and Italian Charcuterie); and beer.
Possibly the two most distinctive Portuguese culinary products are the fortified wines, Port and Madeira. Portugal has many other important wines, but these two have been made and have been popular for thousands of years. The production of Port can be traced back to Roman times, and it is a great favorite with the English and a major competitor for aperitif use to Spain's sherries. While Port and Madeira are famous Portuguese exports, there are many important Portuguese products such as its cheeses that you simply cannot get outside of the country. The author slyly suggests this is a very good thing, intimating that a trip to Portugal will bring much culinary novelty to your life.
The recipe chapters are organized in a very conventional manner, giving us Appetizers and Condiments; Soups; Meats; Poultry; Fish and Shellfish; Vegetables, Rice and Salads; Breads; and Sweets. There is a recipe for Portuguese empanadas, but the author gives no hint of an important 'tapas' culture. Most appetizers are variations on familiar themes seen in Provence and Italy. Portugal seems to take the thick Tuscan style of soup to a new level with their 'dry' soups. A soup, 'caldo verde' is also the national dish of Portugal, as we have seen Emeril Lagasse make on several occasions. One thing that stands out with Portuguese soup recipes is that very few seem to use prepared stocks. Rather, many of the soups seem to rely on including starchy potatoes to lend body to the soup. Wine is used as much or more frequently as a flavoring than are stocks. It seems like wine is in practically every soup recipe.
Many other recipes seem to have distinctive twists, such as the roasted turkey recipe that calls for no basting, but rubbing the skin with salt and roasting at a constant temperature.
All the bread recipes use the very familiar active dry yeast for leavening, so if you are the least adept at blooming those little foil packets of yeast, there should be no challenges here at all. Several bread recipes include eggs and scalded milk, products common in rustic Greek breads as well.
In place of Italy's sabayon and France's custards, Portugal revels in variations on sweet soft eggs or 'ovos moles'. The author describes Portuguese egg pastries as 'achingly sweet'. I suspect you may want to try one or two of these as a substitute for your crème brulee, but don't make too much if you are watching your waistline.
National and regional cookbooks can be done badly, especially when for locales such as Rumania and the Philippines, there is no competition. Ms. Anderson has done us foodies a great service with this book. It is not as deep as Paula Wolfert's Morocco or as analytical as Erica De Mane's southern Italy, but it is very good. The fact that there are no sources given at the back of the book says a lot for what you may need to do to taste some of this food.