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!