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Açorda de Mariscos ("Dry" Bread Soup with Shellfish)


Açorda, which dates back to the days of the Moors, is often translated as dry soup because its major component, bread, absorbs much of the liquid. Vieira, of Tony da Caneca, dresses up what can be a workday favorite with generous helpings of lobster, shrimp and other shellfish. Vieira's piri-piri oil (molho de piri-piri) represents one of the many ways Portuguese cooks use chili peppers. Piri-piri is fiery hot, and if you have never tried it or are unsure of its strength, use it sparingly. If you can't find malaguetas, other hot chilies can be substituted.

Wine recommendations: An Alvarinho vinho verde, such as Quinta do Melgaço's QM, has the palate-refreshing stuff to put out a piri-piri fire. If you favor less heat, you could serve a light red; try Sogrape's 1996 Douro Reserva.

For the açorda:
12 cherrystone clams, scrubbed and bearded
12 mussels, scrubbed and bearded
12 cockles, scrubbed and bearded
1 (1 1/2-pound) lobster
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons finely minced garlic
12 to 16 slices country bread, each about 1-inch thick
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon piri-piri oil, or to taste
6 eggs, at room temperature

For the piri-piri oil:
1/4 cup seeded, coarsely chopped malagueta or other hot chile peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
Combine chilies, salt and oil in a glass jar with a lid. Cover tightly and keep refrigerated. Piri-piri sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several months.

Place clams, mussels and cockles in large pot with about 1 inch of water. Cover and steam for 5 to 10 minutes or until shellfish just open. Discard any that remain closed. Remove the rest from pot with slotted spoon and set aside. Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, making sure that any sand from shellfish is strained out. Place bread in bowl to soak in stock. Remove clams, mussels and cockles from their shells and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil about 1 inch of water, covered. Add lobster, cover and steam for about 20 minutes. Remove cooked lobster from pot, remove meat from tail and claws and chop in small pieces. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet set over medium-high heat until oil ripples slightly. Add 2 tablespoons garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until golden. Add soaked bread and slowly bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in deep saucepan or stockpot set over medium heat until oil ripples slightly. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until golden. Add shrimp, clams, mussels, cockles and lobster pieces, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until shrimp are pink. Spoon all shellfish over bread and stock. Add cilantro, season with salt and pepper and piri-piri. Mix well.

Preheat broiler. Spoon shellfish-bread mixture into large clay baking dish or other ovenproof casserole dish. With a spoon, create six small "craters" in surface of mixture. Gently break eggs into craters. Broil for about 2 minutes, until eggs are cooked and top of mixture is golden brown. Spoon into bowls and serve hot.
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