Merry Christmas, to all TFD Citizens who observe the holiday! While there are few true constants in this life (or any other), the Omnipotent One – the Magnetic Center of the Universe who ALONE is TFD! – always knows the following proofs are eternal.
The compass will always point North, the sun will always rise in the East and set in the West and the Leader of TFD Nation will ALWAYS have a truly warped sense of humor and perspective on life. Proof points: my last post to celebrate Hanukkah was a deep-fried hot dog, and today we celebrate the holy day of Christmas with…a lamprey.
Yes, a lamprey – a hideous, slimy deep-sea vampire that would give dread Cthulhu Itself a profound shudder of cosmic, existential dread! If you’re unfamiliar with these nightmarish prehistoric denizens of the deep, take a deep breath, pop a few Xanax and watch this delightful video about them!
Festive fodder for holiday cheer, wouldn’t you agree? 😉
Yet, the Portuguese in their infinite culinary wisdom have transformed this demon of the deep into a beloved Christmas dessert made from – wait for it – ***62*** egg yolks! How did such a bizarre combination of hideous vampire and sweet treat become a holiday tradition? I’m glad you asked, , no chaser!
The always-amazing food history site of gastroobscura.com has this to say on the subject of the Portuguese lamprey dessert:
For centuries, Portuguese nuns doubled as egg yolk–slinging pastry chefs, cementing the country’s specialty in yellow-hued sweets. There’s ovos moles, small, seashell-shaped candies. There’s pão de ló de ovar, a decadent, gooey cake. Then there’s lampreia de ovos, perhaps the most unique among the yolk-based offerings. Made from 50 egg yolks, this sweet replica of a terrifying, ancient sea monster also happens to be a Christmas treat in some regions.
According to popular lore, nuns made eggs a convent staple after discovering that egg whites kept their habits sharp and wrinkle-free during ironing. After laying claim to Brazil in 1500, Portugal started importing sugarcane as an abundant, inexpensive ingredient. Resourceful nuns looked at all the extra egg yolks and, with the nation’s gold mine of sugar, began creating rich, yellow desserts to support themselves.
But why the lamprey, an eel-like, bloodsucking fish with several rows of spiraling, sharpened teeth, of all things? As one travel guide puts it, the Portuguese “so love this ugly river fish they make golden egg effigies of it for festive occasions.”
For hundreds of years, the fish served as a suitable red-meat replacement (its texture is comparable to slow-cooked beefsteak) for penny-pinchers and Christians abstaining for Lent. The oldest known Portuguese cookbook, dating back to the 16th century, includes only one fish recipe. It’s for lamprey. A stew made from the fish and its blood is still popular throughout the country.
Lampreia de ovos requires no actual parts of the lamprey. All you need to make one is sugar syrup, almonds, and eggs. First, build your lamprey’s winding body from a paste of sweetened yolks and grated almonds, then dress it in sheets of yolks and syrup (“capes”) and strands of beaten egg and sugar. Once you’ve assembled the lamprey’s basic shape, you can brown it in a hot oven or use a red-hot iron to recreate its signature spots.
Finally, don’t forget to animate your new friend with a set of candied cherry eyes and a couple of peeled almond teeth. Top it off with sugary egg threads, then glaze and decorate with candy. Delicious, nutritious, and not so horrific after all.
The origin of the Egg Lamprey is mostly attributed to the nuns of Santa Clara Monastery. At first, honey was the main sweetener employed in Convent Cuisine, but sugar from Brazil quickly replaced it.
While this dessert will assuredly send your cholesterol into stratospheric heights previously undetermined by human measurement tools, it will be totally worth it and the kids will get a huge kick out of the ‘lamprey’.
I’ve tweaked the lamprey recipe slightly by adding both vanilla and almond extracts to the syrup, they are totally optional but I love them in this. The recipe is decorated with ‘Fios de Ovos’, which are a signature dish in Portuguese dessert making.
They are basically sweet egg yolks drawn into thin strands like pasta which are cooked in sugar syrup. They are an integral element of both Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine. Like many other egg-based Portuguese sweets, they are believed to have been created by Portuguese monks and nuns around the 15th century. They are very simple, easy to make and sure to impress.
Be sure and take a cue from TFD and decorate the lamprey mouth with several circular rows of teeth made from almonds, and give due honor to the hundreds of millions of years the lamprey has been successfully draining the life fluids from unsuspecting aquatic denizens! Try enjoying this on a holiday buffet with other Portuguese treats, such as this delicious beef appetizer!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- 900 g sugar
- 3 dl water
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract (TFD addition to recipe, optional but I like it)
- 1 tsp. almond extract (TFD addition to recipe, optional but I like it)
- 300 g almonds (peeled and grated)
- 50 egg yolks
- 2 crystallized cherries for the eyes
- Marcona almonds for the teeth
- Fios de Ovos:
- 12 egg yolks
- 1 lbs. sugar
- 1 cup water
- White icing to decorate
- Heat the sugar with 3 dl of water and let boil until the syrup bubbles (thread stage, around 103° centigrade).
- Break 36 eggs to obtain the yolks; strain the yolks. Add the extracts to the syrup and stir carefully.
- Two by two, spoon the egg yolks into the syrup; they will form a kind of flat egg ‘sheet’. Remove the egg ‘sheet’ and drain on a sieve. Repeat the operation until you have used all the 36 egg yolks.
- Peel and grate the almonds and add to the syrup left after you have finished the egg yolk operation. Stir well and add the other 14 egg yolks. Take again to the heat, stirring continuously, until you see the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat and give to this egg paste the shape of a rolled lamprey. Cover with the egg sheets.
- To imitate the teeth, use marcona almonds; for the eyes, use 2 crystallized cherries.
- Let it brown in a hot oven for a few minutes, imitating the spotted skin of the lamprey. Alternatively, instead of putting it into the oven, you can also imitate the spots with a red-hot iron or butane torch.
- Once out of the oven, decorate with white icing in a similar fashion to the picture accompanying the recipe.
- For the Fios de Ovos:
- Add the sugar and water to a large saucepan. Put in on medium heat and let it cook until it reaches a syrup consistency. Stir it occasionally.
- Place the egg yolks into a strainer with a long tip at the end.
- Slowly drizzle the yolks into the sugar syrup. They will cook as you pour them in.
- When they become cooked remove them from the sugar syrup onto a strainer.
- Repeat the process until you run out of yolks. Add extra water to the syrup if it becomes too thick.
- Separate the strands with a fork and drizzle with remaining syrup to keep the threads from getting dry.
- Once you are done, they are ready to serve as a garnish around the ‘lamprey’!
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