Right before it was yesterday’s news and tossed on the cultural junk pile as passé, everything was the next big thing. Devotees of Anthony Bourdain will know that as of two weeks ago, Croatian cuisine is the new black. Prior to all this, somewhere between Spanish food blowing up into our collective consciousness and the advent of Ecuador in the global gastronomic stakes, in 2010 Portugal flickered briefly into view, largely on the strength of David Liete, before vanishing under the rising tide of new and undiscovered.
Not so for Dan Gilbert and Carla Gonçalves of Philadelphia’s Koo-Zee-Doo for whom the discovery of Portuguese food by the public was just the beginning. Winners of a highly coveted James Beard Award also in 2010, they have continued to take traditional Portuguese food to the next level and justify its increased popularity.
Now that we have a child, we’re very often late to the party when it comes to hot new restaurants. Not that we could ever have been accused of having our finger on the dining-out pulse anyway, given that our preference for restaurants runs rather more towards the traditional and wholesome than the trendy and transitory. So, it wasn’t until late winter of this year that we guilted the in-laws into putting the baby to bed and finally got the chance to visit Koo-Zee-Doo.
Happily this Portuguese charmer in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties was both worth the wait and, as far as we could tell, entirely unchanged for its new-found fame. That it was also around the corner from the 700 Club, where there is not only soccer on the TV but, to our great surprise, hand-pulled ales, meant by the time we showed up for our reservation, we were beerily jovial.
The third course on the tasting menu – outstanding value at only fifty sheets a head – was Koo-Zee-Doo’s take on the traditional Portuguese soup, caldo verde, of smoked chouriço* sausage, kale, and potatoes simmered in a beef broth. Of all the six outstanding dishes we sampled that night, this was the simplest and perhaps the best. Instead of a broth, this soup resembled more a British leek and potato or a warm Vichyssoise in texture, as the potato had been blended with the stock. Slim strands of kale ran through the soup like green threads in a linen jacket, stitched together with tiny buttons of chouriço. Most impressively, from both a visual and gustatory perspective, was the use of a daring curl of chouriço oil, almost as a question mark inviting the diner to compare it to its traditional version.
It was a perfect reinvention of a classic without any of the deconstruction rubbish that still seems to plague trendy restaurants trying to be clever. And speaking of clever, all we have done here in our version is switch out the beef stock for a ham broth which, we think, adds an additional porky depth to the whole thing. I’m not sure whether Koo-Zee-Doo received its James Beard Award solely for its use of chouriço oil, but if I were judging the contest they probably would have. Now that we’ve learned about it, it’s quite simply an indispensable ingredient, and the next big thing, at least until something else comes along, in our kitchen.
*Note: Portuguese chouriço is very similar, if not completely identical, to Spanish chorizo. Do not substitute Mexican or other New World-style chorizos unless you want the result to be completely different. It would probably still be delicious, just different.
- 2 medium chorizo sausages, cut into small cubes
- 3-4 floury potatoes, peeled
- 1 head of kale, washed, stems removed and julienned
- 4 cups (or more) ham, pork or beef broth
- 1-2 sprigs fresh thyme, storks removed.
- In a large pot containing boiling stock, boil potatoes until soft, 20-35 minutes depending on how large you cut them
- In a saucepan over medium heat, saute chorizo cubes gently, allowing fat to render.
- Cook chorizo for 4-8 minutes, then remove cubes and reserve on a plate, and drain orange fat into a jug or other device with a spout
- When potatoes are cooked remove them gently with a slotted spoon and place in a blender or food processor.
- Introduce kale to boiling stock and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Remove kale with slotted spoon and reserve on a plate.
- Add about a 1/3 of the stock to the food processor/blender, or enough so that the potatoes are nicely wet but not so much as it will spurt everywhere when you switch it on.
- Add thyme leaves and process/blend until a smooth paste, then add enough stock to make the soup nicely liquid while also being thick enough to stick to a spoon.
- Stir in julienned kale strips and chorizo cubes and serve in nice deep bowls.
- Garnish with a good dash of chouriço oil and serve with a glass of a red Portuguese wine somewhere in the $9 range.
613 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA
T: (215) 923-8080