After what seems to have been an endless sort of sporting tournament, the final of the UEFA European Championship is finally upon us. And whilst there hasn’t been that much to cheer about, particularly if you are an England supporter, we can at least rejoice that our Celtic cousins, Wales, made it through to the semis and restored some sense of pride. Prior to the game, I did do some digging around actually and discovered that I have literally no Welsh heritage at all. But I did once have a very good friend called Rhys, who came from the valleys, so that was enough for me to get behind Bale and the boyos.
Sadly, despite their valiant efforts, the special journey for the Dragons and their supporters was halted by none other than Mr Cristiano Ronaldo and again, whilst I know that he winds up many a football fan; with his poncing, pontificating and all round show pony prancing (when he is not crying that is) I was happy that he buried Wales with that header. Purely because I’ve got Portugal in the office sweepstakes and if they win on Sunday, I will get 90 big ones handed to me on Monday morning. Hopefully on a plate, like they do in Come Dine With Me. But given the animosity that is often handed out to the Real Madrid player, the cash might simply get thrown in my face.
Of course, France stand in the way and having scored more goals than any other team during the competition, it is no surprise that they are in the final. They could thwart my chances. After all, I have often felt that if a team can do just that i.e. score more goals than the other side, as opposed to letting goals in, then they will go far. However that is my own analysis of the beautiful game. I doubt very much that the FA will come knocking at my door with a proposition of becoming the next England manager any time soon. Although they might.
Getting down to the nitty gritty then, the food and what to eat and drink during the final this Sunday; well, if you were to pitch France against Portugal in a contest of gastronomic proportions, you would have to say that the French have it in the bag, wouldn’t you? This is a nation that considers after all, that a half-time snack during the football should be the galette-saucisse, an elegant sausage, wrapped in a savoury pancake and washed down with sparkling cider. Which is quite a refined option when you think about it and one that we have visited already, here at Great British Chefs.
What does Portugal have to answer to that? Well the answer could just be pateis de bacalhau, or salt cod croquettes. Now, I am not saying that these oval bites of fishy delight are commonplace around the football stadiums of Portugal but in terms of representing a nation and delivering some saline bang to the palette, then these croquettes are just the ticket. Imagine if it does go to penalties on Sunday night? Imagine if suddenly, you feel faint and weak, having been glued to the telly, without any care or sustenance? You are parched, starved and almost at your wits end, what is going to bring you back into the game? A moreish morsel of crispy deep-fried potato, flecked with parsley and onion and dipped in a sweet tomato and pepper sauce (which you have to make to accompany them)? Or will a sausage save the day? These just the sort of fine margins I was alluding to earlier; the sort of decisions that help teams win.
And what to wash it down with? What fine Portuguese beer can you sup with these? Um, yes, we do have a slight hiccup here. Although there are lots of independent breweries springing up all over the place in Portugal, conjuring up all sorts of interesting beers, the market is still fairly small. And as such, they’ve not yet made the same sort of impact that say, Italy or Denmark have started to make on the European beer scene, but they are coming. In the meantime, the best offering we can give here is something along the lines of Super Bock; a dry, slightly grassy yet fairly unassuming lager. Some say that it has sulphurous undertones, reflecting the windy, flatulent nature of Portugal’s superstar, but as a session beer, to gulp down nervously or otherwise, it matches up very nicely with the salt cod. Which in itself is a brilliant ingredient because a little goes a long way.
Tough decisions are to be made ahead of Sunday then and if I were you, I would rustle up a platter with both options. Then whatever the outcome of the final, at least everyone will feel like they’ve won, feel sated and, dare I say it, feel ever so merry.
Good luck to France and Portugal!