Lampreia de Ovos, an egg-based Christmas dessert which celebrate a bloodsucking fish!
Here we are:
We are in Portugal, where for centuries nuns doubled as egg yolk–slinging pastry chefs, cementing the country’s specialty in yellow-coloured desserts.
In religious houses, the egg whites were used for ironing, and the Convent Confectionery could evolve thanks to the use of the egg yolk surplus, which originated countless recipes.
There’s for example ovos moles, small, seashell-shaped candies, or pão de ló de ovar, a decadent, gooey cake.
Then there’s lampreia de ovos, perhaps the most unique among the yolk-based creations.
The origin of the Egg Lamprey is mostly attributed to Santa Clara Monastery. It was typically commercialized in lovely boxes with coloured cutted-out paper.
It is made from 50 egg yolks, a it is a sweet replica of a terrifying, ancient sea monster also happens to be a Christmas treat in some regions.
According to popular legend, nuns made eggs a convent staple after discovering that egg whites kept their habits sharp and wrinkle-free during ironing. At first, honey was the main sweetener employed in Convent Cuisine, but after laying claim to Brazil in 1500, Portugal started importing sugarcane as an abundant, inexpensive ingredient. So, resourceful nuns looked at all the extra egg yolks and and sugar started to be a widespread ingredient in pastry recipes, thereby contributing to the development of the Convent Confectionery, creating rich, yellow desserts to support themselves.
But the question is: why the lamprey, an eel-like, bloodsucking fish with several rows of spiraling, sharpened teeth? It seems that Portuguese love this ugly fish, and they make golden egg effigies of it for festive occasions.
Lampreia, (lamprey), is a very strange fish that, somehow, gained favor with emperors and kings. The Romans included it in banquets prepared for Julius Caesar, and the oldest known Portuguese cookbook, a 16th century collection of recipes attributed to Infanta D. Maria, has a single fish recipe that describes how to prepare and cook lamprey. A stew made from the fish and its blood is still popular throughout the country.
However, 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 creation 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. This is really delicious and not so gruesome, after all!