Whenever I walk into a tasca, I check the ubiquitous handwritten black board for the daily menu. If I spot Carne de Porco à Alentejana scrawled on it, I know exactly what I’m having, no questions asked. One single taste of the savory pork intermixed with slightly sweet clams and I’m set for life!
Whoever thought to toss clams into a pot of stewed pork was a genius idea?! It sounds like an unlikely combination; and to some, it’s just plain weird, but consider it the portuguese version of Surf & Turf. It’s an insanely flavorful dish that’s both filling and delicious alongside roust Alentejo wines!
The real reason this is such a spectacular a pairing isn’t because of the “meat” of the dish; it’s what it produces at the end. A sauce that can only come from the harmony created when land and sea come together, and with a splash of fermented fruit to bind it. I could happily give up the pork and clams as long as I get that residual sauce at the bottom and a loaf of Pão Alentejano to absorb it.
Contrary to what one would think, Carne de Porco à Alentejana did not originate in the Alentejo as its name would suggest. It was the cooks of the Algarve that originally came up with the idea to mix the two unlikely food friends. One suggestion as to why, was to add clams in order to mask a “fishy” tasting pork that came from the region, as the pigs down south would be fed fish scraps and it changed how the pork tasted.
The “Alentejana“ reference was to indicate where the pork was sourced; the Alentejo region north of the Algarve. Here the pigs’ diet mainly consisted of cork oak acorns thus creating gorgeous tasting meat. These pigs didn’t just have a better diet though. Alentejo is also home to the highly prized Porco Preto Ibérico, or black Iberian pig. If you don’t know much about this pig, maybe you’ve heard of the Spanish Jamon Iberico, a cured ham with similarities to presunto.
It may not sound like the most compatible two foods. I mean pork is good all by its lonesome and clams are famous in soups and pasta; but I assure you, it’s a must have when visiting Portugal, no matter what region you visit. The best part is to amaze the naysayers at home by making your own pot. Even if they don’t like pork or clams by themselves, just give them a bowl of the sauce at the bottom and some bread. It’s the best way to turn them into believers!
If however, these recipes have piqued your interest and desire to taste it on Portuguese soil, why not let us put together a full custom foodie tour just for you! Then you can dip, sip and nibble your way through buttery presunto, savory Feijoada Transmontana and delicate Rojões à Moda do Minho, not to mention a wide variety of spectacular wines! Contact us today for more information!
- 3 tablespoons massa de pimentão
- 2¼lbs (1 kg) boneless pork loin, cubed
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) clams, scrubbed clean
- 3 large potatoes, peeled
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lemon, sliced into wedges (optional)
- Cilantro/coriander leaves (optional)
- In a bowl, make a paste with the paprika, garlic, olive oil and salt.
- Place the pork into a large plastic zip bag or a deep bowl. Add the paprika and garlic paste to the pork and massage it into the meat with your fingers. Add in the bay leaves and wine/vinegar, remove the air from the bag and seal it or cover the bowl. Allow to marinate at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours. The longer the better! Be certain to stir the meat or massage it in the bag every so often.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep pan over high heat. Add in the marinated pork, reserving the marinade for later. Brown the pork on all sides in a single layer, cooking it in batches if needed. Transfer cooked pork to a clean bowl.
- Once all the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to medium low and toss in the onion and garlic and allow it to brown lightly, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the wine and scrap any bits off the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Stir in the tomato paste and the reserved pork marinade and allow it to cook about 10 minutes.
- Add the pork back into the pan, stirring so that the pork is covered in the sauce. Reduce heat to low and cover with a lid to allow to barely simmer for 1 ½ hours, checking occasionally.
- Once the pork is nice and tender, turn the heat up to medium-low and bring it to a gentle boil. Add the clams to the pot, distributing them evenly throughout. Cover and cook an additional 20-30 minutes or until the clams open.
- While the clams are steaming in the pork and sauce, prepare the batatas fritas.
- Cut the peeled potatoes into 1 inch by ⅓ inch thick pieces and put them into a pot of salted water and place on the stove. Bring the water to a boil and allow to boil 5-7 minutes or until the outside is cooked, but the potatoes are still firm.
- Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of cold water to cool, then drain of excess water.
- Heat olive oil in a clean pan over medium-high heat. Add in the potatoes and cook until golden brown all over and tender in the middle, about 7-10 minutes.
- Place potato in a soup plate or shallow bowl with plenty of the pork and clams on top and lots of sauce. Add wedges of lemon and cilantro leaves for garnish and serve with crusty Portuguese bread.