The golden era of Portuguese exploration in the 16th century defined a whole new cuisine that shared the spices and cooking techniques of the Portuguese territories to create new and exciting dishes. For the Sephardic Jews, Hindus, and Muslims living in Portugal and the Portuguese territories, this same era was pure terror. The Portuguese inquisition was full blown and the “righteous” on a relentless mission to “out” those who weren’t Catholic so they could convert them to Christianity or burn them if the wouldn’t. Food ended up playing a major role in hiding the Jews who hadn’t converted and as a way for the inquisitors to prove if they really did.
Because the Jews ate a Kosher diet that didn’t allow them to eat pork or shellfish, the inquisitors used this against them by making people eat non-kosher foods as a way to see if they were true converts or-not. This led the Jews in Portugal to replace the blood-red pork Chorizo and Linguica sausages hanging outside their homes with a “fake” version called Ahiera. This bright red sausage was made with chicken, duck, and game and was made to look like the traditional pork sausages.
Legend says this dish, Carne de Porco a Alentejana, was specifically created to test that Jews claiming they had converted to the Christian faith actually did. The dish combined the anti-Kosher motherload of pork and shellfish. The recent “converta” were expected to eat it in public in order to prove their complete detachment from the Jewish faith. This is that dish, for better or worse.
Pork and Clams in Garlic Sauce – Carne de Porco a Alentejana
- Baking tray
- Large pot
- 3 lb Boneless pork shoulder or butt, cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup Red pepper paste (Massa de Pimento)
- 1¾ cup Dry white wine
- 6 tbsp Olive oil
- 2 Medium onions, coarsely chopped
- 4 Clove garlic, minced
- 2 lb Potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
- 1 lb Clams
- Kosher salt and ground pepper
- ¼ cup Cilantro chopped leaves (or parsley if desired)
- Combine the pork cubes with the red pepper paste in a ziplock bag and massage. Add wine and mix. Seal bag and refrigerate for 24 – 36 hours.
- Drain the pork in a colander set over a bowl to collect the liquid. Pat pork cubes dry with paper towels. Thoroughly rinse clams in the colander.
- In a large wide-bottomed pot, warm 3 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan in 2 or 3 batches. Brown cubes on all sides, about 5-7 minutes per batch. Add ⅛ cup wine and scrape up bits from bottom between batches. With a slotted spoon, transfer pork cubes to a plate when browned. Lower heat to medium and add onion. When soft after 5 minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute.
- Pour reserved marinade into the pot and add pork cubes. Cover and cook 1 to 1½ hour over low heat.
- While pork is cooking, preheat oven to 400° (200°C). Mix potato cubes in a bowl with 3 tbsp olive oil. Lightly salt and heavily pepper the potatoes. Put the cubes on a baking tray in one layer. Roast until they turn golden brown, about 45 minutes. Flip them a few times to be sure all sides brown.
- When the pork has finished cooking, raise heat to high and stir in clams. Cover and cook 7-10 minutes. Throw away any that haven't opened. Taste broth and season as needed.
- To serve, remove half the clams from their shells and return to pot, tossing the empty shells. Divide the potato cubes between bowls, top with the pork, clam, and broth from the pot. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top. Bring out some good crusty bread for mopping up the sauce and a big bowl for the shells.
- Clams are much easier to work with than they look. Wash them in a colander in the sink. Discard any that seem noticeably heavier than the others, if any. It means they’ve retained sand.
- Don’t use low-quality wine in the sauce, you’ll notice it. A good rule of thumb is use a wine in a dish that you’d drink with it.
- Portuguese Massa de Pimento can be purchased online but is fairly easy to make at home. Make it several days before you plan on using it.
Classic Recipe: Original | Make Ahead: Some| Difficulty: Medium