Carne de porco a Alentejana is a traditional Portuguese dish of marinated pork and steamed clams. An unlikely combination, at least to me. But it’s really delicious.. It’s garlicky, with the sweet taste of red pepper, thanks to the addition of Massa de Pimentão.
Carne de porco a Alentejana and the Indian State of Goa
How do Mediterranean sweet red pepper sauces lead to the Indian state of Goa? I don’t really see an obvious connection, but then again that’s part of what’s so fascinating and surprising about learning about history and culture through food. Allow me to connect the dots.
If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’ve made a good number of red bell pepper pastes, sauces, and dips from the Mediterranean region over the past year or so. That already entails historical and cultural mash up. Peppers (hot, sweet, and otherwise) are a new world plant. And hence they’ve only been a part of Mediterranean cuisines since the 15th century.
At any rate, the sweet red pepper has made it into a variety of amazing pastes and dips. There is smokey avjar, a red pepper and eggplant spread popular throughout the Balkans. There is Spain’s classic Salsa Romesco, a dip made of sweet red pepper and ground almonds. The city of Aleppo, Syria is famous for a sauce very similar to Salsa Romesco, called Muhammara, which is roasted red peppers and ground walnuts. And finally, Spain’s Iberian peninsula neighbor produces the famous sweet-salty paste called Massa de Pimentão.
I have recipes for all of these red pepper concoctions (follow the links), because I have a thematic brain and tend to proceed systematically. That’s a nice way of saying I’m a former academic and I can get obsessed sometimes. Ha!
Carne de Porco a Alentejana.
Okay, what’s this got to do with Goa? Well, Massa de Pimentão, Portugal’s famous red pepper paste, is used primarily as a marinade for meat. Most famously of all, it’s an essential ingredient in a famous traditional dish from the Alentejo region of Portugal called Carne de Porco a Alentejana.
Now to my North American sensibilities, this dish, Carne de Porco a Alentejana, is a little odd. You marinade pork in massa de pimentão, white wine, garlic, and bay leaves. And then you cook it all up with, um. You cook it up with…with clams.
Yes! Pork and clams. Pork and seafood in one dish. Maybe it’s just me, but I haven’t seen that combination before. Sure, it’s not uncommon at all to see some bacon added to a seafood sauce to add that smoky depth. But in this case it’s more like the clams are a flavoring for the pork.
What would make this pork taste better? Hmmm. Clams maybe? I imagine someone asked (and answered) this question once. Some Alentejan culinary mad scientist. Or maybe it was more like, “Hey, we’ve got all these clams. What are we going to do with them? I know! Let’s throw them in the pork roast!” And you know what? It totally works! It’s delicious in fact. Who would have thought?
Surf and Turf is an Abomination: A Digression
In an attempt to explain Carne de Porco a Alentejana, some people say “It’s like Portuguese surf and turf!” I’m sorry, but I disagree that this traditional Portuguese dish is anything like surf and turf (apart from the combination of land and sea creatures). This deserves a mini-digression, methinks.
There is no culinary reason, to my knowledge, to combine a lobster and a beef steak (or shrimp and a beefsteak). I’ve always suspected that the reason these items landed on the same plate has to do with mid-century American ideals of grande bourgeois success.
At a certain period in American history, both lobster and steak were prohibitively expensive, “fancy restaurant” food items for working class people. Only rich people could afford to order a steak or a lobster. Ordering a steak showed that you had arrived. Same with a lobster. Put both on the same plate? Now that’s the American Dream! It doesn’t have to taste good. It just has to be expensive.
This “history” of surf and turf is purely speculative on my part. However, there is a humorous line in the Wikipedia listing for surf and turf that suggests the same idea:
What About Goa, India?
I know. I know. Goa. Back on topic.
There is a method of preparing meat in Portugal called Carne de vinha d’alhos, which means “meat with wine and garlic”. And this dish, Carne de Porco a Alentejana, is such a dish. It’s pork marinaded in wine and garlic (and Massa de Pimentão).
Well, the State of Goa in India was once a Portuguese colony. And this Carne de vinha d’alhos marinade style was adopted locally. Adaptations occurred, you know, like they do in these situations. And vinegar replaced the wine. And hot chilies were added. And eventually vinha d’alhos became vindaloo. How about that? Way better than surf and turf.
- 1 Pound Pork Loin Roast
- 2 Cups Dry White Wine
- 3 Tablespoons Massa de Pimentão
- 4 Bay Leaves
- 3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ Cup Finely Chopped Shallot
- 1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 Pound Manila Clams
- Chopped Fresh Parsley or Cilantro
- Slice the pork loin roast into half inch slices. Coat the piecces with two tablespoons of the massa de pimentão. Place in a lidded container with the white wine, bay leaves, and garlic. Refrigerate to marinade overnight.
- Place the clams in a bowl of cold, clean water and scrub the outsides of the shells. Drain and replace the water a few times to remove any sand or grit.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute the shallot a few minutes. Add the marinated pork, reserving the marinading liquid. Saute the pork until cooked through.
- Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and add them to the skillet. Saute a few minutes until the tomatoes soften a bit.
- Add the marinade liquid and bring to a simmer. Then add the clams. Cook until all of the clams open.
- Serve with chopped fresh parsley. Or try chopped cilantro.