Ed Smith’s take on carne de porco à Alentejana: pork meat, Alentejan style
I ate the classic version last year in an excellent restaurant in Évora, one of the key cities in the Alentejo region, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
There, a plate of what looked like over-stewed pork came swimming in a thin, garlicky, intensely red sauce, with plump clams and the odd piece of wilted parsley strewn over. The sauce was extraordinarily moreish (thanks to the clams, a peppery and paprika heavy paste and a load of local white wine), but the pork was most memorable of all. This was Alentejan black pig — the same breed used over the nearby border for Iberico ham — and though it looked over-cooked was extraordinarily succulent and melting, with an intensely savoury flavour. It was remarkable.
Many of the elements exist in my version — the sweetness of paprika and red pepper, garlic, thyme, lemon, white wine and the wonderful clam juice. But focussing on a brined pork collar steak, cooked as if it was a ribeye from a cow is a different approach to that of the stew-like chunks of black pig in the original.
Once the pork has been brined, it’s easy, quick and very effeective. I also think it’s a great example of how paprika can act as a key flavouring in a dish — somehow sitting both on the front of the tongue, and in the background behind the pork, clams and wine too.
Sides can be simple because the flavours are bold and the sauce intense. I’d serve this with some plain, boiled waxy potatoes (like the Cyprus variety), and sautéed kale, cavolo nero, spinach or chard. Or you could go totally basic, and just have some doughy bread on hand to mop up the juices.
For more on paprika (and cayenne pepper), read the latest installment of The spice series
2 x 200-250g pork collar steaks (about 2-3cm thick)
For the brine:
15g light brown sugar
15g sea salt
1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
The peel of 1 lemon
8 sprigs thyme
For the clams:
400-500g palourde clams
15 sprigs of parsley
1 romano pepper, finely diced
1 large clove garlic, finely sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
200ml Portuguese white wine
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 lemon, juiced
First make a brine solution by dissolving the sugar, salt and paprika into 300g warm water (there’s no need for it to boil, though you may need to stir). Allow that to cool completely.
Put the pork steaks into a ziplock bag or a tupperware container that snugly fits them. Pour the brine into the bag / over the pork, and add the lemon peel and thyme and seal the bag or container. Place in the fridge for 10-12 hours.
When the time is up, pour the brine away and discard the thyme and lemon. Place the pork steaks on a plate uncovered in the fridge to dry out a bit—2-8 hours is fine, depending on your timings.
Purge the clams by placing them in a bowl of cold water for 15 mins. Remove the clams, and pour the water and any grit away.
Cut 4cm or so from the end of each parsley stalk and chop very finely (leaving the main part and leaf intact). Dice the pepper and slice the garlic. You’re now ready to cook!
Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan (ideally one that will fit a lid from one of your saucepans) on the hob and turn it to medium-high. Add the vegetable oil and allow it to heat for 30 secs before placing the (fridge cold) steaks in the pan. Cook for 2 mins without turning, then flip them over and cook for 2 mins more. Turn again and add the butter, which should immediately froth.
Cook the steaks for a further 45-60 secs on each side, then remove and rest them on a warm plate for 5 mins while you cook the clams. The pork should have a lovely brown crust on the outside, and will be about the equivalent of medium done in the middle—which if you buy good meat from one of the Market’s butchers is absolutely perfect.
For the clams, add the pepper, chopped parsley stalks and garlic to the still-hot but now empty pork pan (don’t clean out any of the juices). Cook and soften over a medium-high heat for 30 secs, then add the clams and shuffle the pan. After another 30 secs, pour in the white wine, add the paprika, shuffle the pan again as the alcohol begins to cook off. Place a lid over the top. Cook at a medium heat for 2-3 mins; the clams are done when they’re fully open.
Remove from the heat, take off the lid and add the lemon juice, parsley sprigs and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Give the clams and red juices a good stir and allow the parsley to wilt.
Cut the pork steaks into thick slices and divide between your bowls or plates that’ll hold plenty of liquid (2 if you’re majoring on the meat, 3-4 if you’re adding sides). Spoon the clams, parsley and lots of juices over the top.
Recipe and image: Ed Smith