No Iberian meal is complete without pork. The importance and prevalence of the meat in the national cuisines of Spain and Portugal cannot be overstated. In fact, had I not already been weaning myself off my fishetarian ways, I would surely have starved to death during our month-long sojourn in Spain.
But that's okay, for the pork in Iberia is exceptional. There are of course the cured hams, such as the famous jamòn serrano and jamòn iberico, the latter of which comes from pigs that dine exclusively on the acorns of black oak trees in central Spain. Iberico in its uncured state is succulent and tender, and unlike anything we have here in the states. The meat itself is darker, with a strong nutty flavor.
I knew the main course of the dinner had to be pork, but sought inspiration. I turned to the trusty Time-Life Foods of the World series, expecting to find a Spanish recipe that would transport me back to our trip. In fact, the recipe that spoke to me was Portuguese.
Pork and clams: What a delightful turn on the classic surf and turf. It sounds incongruous at first, but the two proteins have a strange affinity, as if they were long-lost cousins, star-crossed lovers from different worlds. Only in the sweet afterlife, and on the dinner table, could they be united.
A sidenote about Spain v. Portugal. Despite their tightly linked heritages, there is a clear tension between the two cultures. Whilst in Granada, enjoying a sherry at a local restaurant, we were entranced by the music. The bartender informed us it was a Portuguese group, Madredeus. We loved the soulful, fado-inflected songs. Later, in Madrid, we were perusing a record store, looking for a few choice items to bring home; Madredeus was at the top of our list. We searched through pop, to no avail. Asking one clerk after another, we ended up working our way through several sections, down floor after floor, until we finally found them in the "World" section, alongside tribal drumming and chanting. Keep in mind we are talking about a contemporary popular group from a country that shares the same peninsula.
Intra-Iberian politics aside, this dish is a keeper, though I cannot help but feel like it constitutes a culinary "screw you" to the Jews and Moors so maligned in Iberian history. I mean, pork and clams? Why not throw some milk in for good measure? Gentile that I am, I take no exception.
Carne de porco com amêijoas à alentejana
Adapted from Time-Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal
1-1/2 c. white wine
1 Tbsp paprika
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fennel seed
2 lbs lean boneless pork, cut into 1" cubes
3 Tbsp oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tsp minced garlic
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
pinch red pepper flake
2 dozen clams, scrubbed
Mix ingredients up to pork in a large zip-top bag, and marinate for up to 6 hours in the fridge.
Drain pork, reserving fluid. Discard bay leaf. Pat meat dry. In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven, heat 1 tsp oil until smoking, then brown meat on all sides. Transfer meat to a bowl and set aside. Add the marinating liquid and boil, deglazing bottom of pan, until reduced to 1 cup. Pour over the pork and set aside.
Add remaining oil, heat until shimmering; add peppers and onions, and cook until soft but not brown. Add garlic, tomatoes and pepper flake. Simmer for several minutes, until tomatoes break down. Spread the clams, hinge-side down, over top of sauce and cook, covered, 10 minutes or until clams open. Discard any that do not open. Add the pork and liquid and simmer 5 minutes, until everything is heated through.
Transfer to a large bowl and serve with bread for sopping.