Friday, August 26, 2016

Olympic Food Part 3 - "The Food of Portugal" - Pork with Clams Alentejo-Style (practically a national dish!)

Date I made this recipe:  August 21, 2016 – closing day of the Rio Olympics

The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson
Published by:  William Morrow and Company, Inc.
© 1986
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Pork with Clams Alentejo-Style (Porco a Alentejana)

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I sense a lot of nose-wrinkling going on out there after reading what's in this recipe.  Pork and...what?  Clams?

Yes, clams.  And I hear you:  when Andy and I were in Portugal and first saw this dish on the menu, we had the same reaction.  But we forged ahead into the unknown and this dish remains one of the best things we've ever eaten.  And that's saying a lot as we've traveled through 10 European countries and most of the United States.

So let me fast forward to the end result here and tell you that the dish I made at home was everything we remembered and more.  It is just so delicious, it's scary.  And since Portuguese sailors "founded" Brazil and Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish, I thought it fitting to end my Olympic cooking trials with a Portuguese dish.  And this is because...

...  in 1993, Andy and I went to Spain and Portugal for vacation.  We drove into Portugal after a couple of sleepless nights in Spain (when Spaniards tell you that they party into the night, believe them) and just fell in love with the country, especially Lisbon, mostly because we caught up on sleep.  (Our itinerary was a few days in Spain, starting at Madrid, then into Portugal, then back into Spain (no sleep) and then after a refreshing and rejuvenating trip to Gibraltar and the Rock of, back through the south of Spain to Madrid.)

While in Portugal, we sampled delicious tapas (far cheaper than Spain) and then the pork and clams and fell so in love with this dish that we ordered it any time we could.  The Portuguese dish came with lots of clams but I erred on the side of fewer clams for my dish since clams do not reheat well.  I should not have worried as we ate the entire dish in one sitting; it helped that I made half the recipe.

I first saw this cookbook at my public library, checked it out so I could see if it contained my pork and clams recipe – it did -  and then put it on my list of books to buy.  When I found it at one of my favorite bookstores, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in NYC, I felt like I struck gold. 

Now I knew going in that I was going to make the pork and clams and only the pork and clams from this cookbook but you are welcome to try other recipes in this book if you want (many include pork or other seafood).  This recipe though, is the real deal and   although I don't think it's the national dish of Portugal, it comes close.

You should know though, that in order for this dish to work, you must marinate it overnight in a "Massa de Pimentão" (red pepper sauce) or you can substitute  paste of garlic, salt, paprika and olive oil.  Since I made half the recipe, the latter substitute paste made sense (but even then, halve those ingredients).  I suspect though, that the dishes we had in Portugal were made with the "Massa de Pimentão," which requires you to seed and then cut into strips 8 sweet red peppers, let them sit at room temperature for 12 hours and then roast for 2 – 2 ½ hours.  Whichever one you choose, the flavors are sensational and the pork is so tender it's ridiculous. 

The biggest "hazard" with this dish was adjusting the cooking times.  The recipe said you need 20 minutes to steam the onions and garlic but given that I made half the recipe, I should have checked back in 10 as I nearly incinerated my mixture (I saved it just in time).  I cooked the pork as directed for 1 ½ hours but think I could have cut that in half, and the clams did not need the 30 minutes as directed although no harm befell the clams for having steamed that long.  My advice for making half the recipe is to check as you go.

So thus endeth the Olympic games and our voyeuristic viewing of all Olympic events, big and small (or at least the ones NBC showed us) and as always, that made us sad.  I thought Rio's Olympic torch design was the coolest thing ever (I want a mini one for my house) and that Rio did a great job as host.  I also loved the daily shots of Copacabana Beach ("Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..." from Copacabana by Barry Manilow) and who knows,  Andy and I might go there some day.  If we don't, then Portugal is an acceptable silver-medal "winner." 

The only challenge, but we have plenty of time to prepare for a Brazilian visit, is that we'd have to work on the language. Speaking Portuguese is not for the faint of heart.  It's a combination of Spanish and French that sounds Russian—or at least it did to our ear.  If we spoke Spanish or French or interchanged words while in Portugal, we were usually understood, but trying to understand what they said back to us was another story.  Oh well!  ("Ah Bem!").  We shall try our best to be somewhat conversant whether in Portugal or Brazil.  Of course, the next summer games are in Tokyo so perhaps it's time to practice our Japanese? Yes? ("Hai")

And now, one of the best things I've ever eaten:

Pork with Clams Alentejo-Style – makes 6 servings – Ann's Note:  requires 24-48 hours of prep time
2 ½ pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Massa de Pimentão (page 90 – also below) or, if you prefer, a paste made of 1 peeled and crushed garlic clove, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon paprika (preferably the Hungarian sweet rose paprika), and 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry white wine (Ann's Note:  a half recipe required only ½ cup but that is too little and your mixture will dry out and burn.  I just kept adding until I felt I had enough liquid to steam the clams.  Couldn't hurt, might help!)
2 large bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lard (hog lard, not vegetable shortening)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons littleneck clams in the shell, scrubbed well and purged of grit. (To do this, cover the clams with cold water, add 1 tablespoon cornmeal, let stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes, then drain well.)
¼ teaspoon salt (about)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (about)
If using the massa substitute: (Ann's Note:  if you make half the recipe, make half of this mixture)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
If using the Massa de Pimentão: (recipe to follow)
8 medium sweet red peppers
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/3 cup olive oil

Ann's Note:  This recipe requires you to marinate the pork overnight in either the garlic/salt/paprika and oil mixture OR the Massa De Pimentão.  The Massa is not hard to make but it does require 12 hours of prep time at minimum and then 2 hours of cooking time.  And this is why I used the shortcut!  But if you want an authentic marinade and have the time, then follow the Massa de Pimentão recipe below (yields 1 ¼ cups).

Wash, core, seed, and cut lengthwise into strips about 1-inch wide your 8 medium peppers.  Arrange a layer of pepper strips in the bottom of a shallow bowl no more than 9 inches in diameter; sprinkle with ¾ teaspoon of the salt; now add 7 more layers of pepper strips, sprinkling each with ¾ teaspoon salt.  Let stand uncovered at room temperature for at least 12 hours.  Drain off excess liquid.

Turn on the oven to Warm (250-275).  Place the bowl of peppers, still uncovered, in the oven and roast 2 to 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until all the juices have been absorbed.  Remove the peppers from the oven and cool to room temperature.  Now peel the skin from each pepper strip and discard. 

Place the garlic and pepper strips in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade or in an electric blender cup and add about half the oil; buzz nonstop about 30 seconds, scrape down the work bowl sides, and buzz 30 seconds longer.  Now with the motor running, drizzle enough of the remaining oil to make a paste slightly softer than whipped butter.  Churn 60 seconds nonstop until absolutely smooth.  [Author's] Note:  If you have neither food processor nor blender, you'll have to grind the garlic and peppers to paste as the Portuguese women do – with a mortar and pestle.  You must then add the olive oil very slowly, drop by drop at first, beating hard to incorporate.

Transfer the red pepper paste to a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.  Dip into the paste as needed, letting whatever you remove from the jar come to room temperature before using.

To make the pork and clams:
Rub the pieces of pork well all over with the Massa de Pimentão and place in a large, shallow nonmetallic bowl; add the wine and bay leaves, cover, and marinate about 24 hours, turning the pork occasionally in the wine.

Next day, heat the olive oil and lard in a large heavy kettle over high heat until ripples appear on the kettle bottom—the fat should almost smoke.  Life the pork from the marinade (save the marinade to add to the kettle later) and brown in the three batches, transferring pieces to a large heat-proof bowl as they brown.  When all the pork is brown, dump the onion and garlic into the kettle, lower the heat to moderate, and stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes until limp and golden.  Turn the heat to low, cover the kettle, and steam the onion and garlic 20 minutes.  Ann's Note:  I almost incinerated my mixture so 20 minutes was too long for me.  I advise checking it after 10 minutes to see you fare, especially if you halve the recipe like I did.

Blend in the tomato paste and reserved wine marinade, return the pork to the kettle, adjust the heat so that the wine mixture barely bubbles, then cover and cook 1 ½ hours until the pork is fork-tender.  Ann's Note:  you should plan to add more wine as you go as what is leftover from the marinade is not enough.  Also, check after 45 minutes to see how the meat is doing.  If it's done, continue with the next steps.

Now bring the kettle liquid to a gentle boil, lay the clams on top of the pork, distributing them as evenly as possible, re-cover, and cook about 30 minutes – just until the clams open, spilling their juices.  Ann's Note:  check back after 15.

Ann's Note:  the author advises serving this with crusty bread, but in Portugal, this was always served with delicious steak fries.

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