The scent of roasted meat is common when traversing Portugal, but in the Center that rich, inviting aroma is almost always from leitão assado. Leitão, or suckling pig, is considered to be one of the richest of Portuguese delicacies, a wonder even. With tender, juicy meat and perfectly crispy skin, it’s already tantalizing, but the real secret behind this mouthwatering dish is the sauce!
Central Portugal has been cranking out the popular roasted little piglets for a couple of centuries. One belief is that the oldest recipe, from 1743, comes from Mosteiro de Lorvão. It was later included in a book written by António de Macedo Mengo in 1900. There is some disagreement as to the actual origin though, be it Anadia, Águeda, or Mealhada (though Mealhada is often given credit), but it’s said that the descriptions of the original recipes are “almost equal”.
While the tender pork meat is often the prize, it’s nothing without the correct seasoning. The peppery, garlic and salt mixture is usually added to copious amounts of lard and then rubbed all over the pig, inside and out. This is of course all well and good, but the real gem is after it renders off and becomes a pool of pepper juice that is perfect for repeatedly basting the pig as it rotates on the spit. After that it’s collected and used to either pour over the cooked pork or to dunk chunks of the tender meat into bite by bite. This is obviously not a meal to worry about your diet!
Fortunately for those who can’t get their hands on some leitão of their own, there is a way to get some of that mouthwatering sauce without the pig! Making the gravy alone comes with its own benefits. It means that there are more options as how to use it. Brush it on a chicken for Sunday dinner, use it to baste the Thanksgiving turkey, even an Easter lamb or goat could use some of this spice!
If you’re keen for a custom tour of Bairrada gastronomy, let us know! We’re more than happy to show you our favorite food and wine jaunts in this undiscovered region!
- 5 or 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- Generous pinch of coarse salt
- 6 ounces (170g) lard
- ¼ cup (50ml) white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- Peel the garlic and remove the end. Place the cloves into a mortar along with the pepper and salt and crush with a pestle until it becomes a coarse paste. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, finely chop the garlic on a cutting board, then with the flat side of the knife press the garlic into the cutting board to make the paste.
- Place the lard into a sauce pan over medium heat to allow it to melt. Once it’s melted add in the garlic pepper paste, wine and bay leaves.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce the heat and allow it to cook until the sauce has thickened a bit. Turn off the heat and only turn it back on for a couple of minutes to heat it up when ready to serve.
- Serve warm as dipping sauce for rich meats or as gravy to drizzle over boiled potatoes, vegetables or just for wetting your bread in!