Thursday, October 01, 2009

Vindaloo: The curry where Portugal meets India

"Fusion" was trendy in restaurant cooking a decade ago. But it often just meant throwing Thai curry paste or coconut milk into an otherwise Western dish. Real fusion, with a small "f," has happened organically and gradually over the ages as cultures interact, instead of by some chef's design.

The Portugese were the first Europeans to extensively explore and live in Asia. Goa, a prominent Portugese colony on the west coast of India from the early 1500s until 1961, was a major cultural meeting ground, where now the largely Indian inhabitants have some Portugese ancestry and Portugese names and practice Catholicism. Goa is also the home of vindaloo, an intensely hot curry, classically of pork (which is not eaten by India's Hindus or Muslims) marinated in vinegar and spices.

The old Portugese dish "Carne de Vinha d'Alhos" (meat cooked with wine and garlic) gradually morphed into "vindaloo" by switching from wine to wine vinegar ("vinegar" means sour, or acidic, wine) to vinegar from other sources, and by increasing the spicing. The curry with the corrupted Portugese name, now a staple in Indian restaurants when made with lamb or chicken, has two characteristics that are unusual in Indian cooking, pork and pickling the meat with vinegar.

The recipe below has much less hot pepper than a Goanese vindaloo. The pickling process for the meat requires 12 to 24 hours.

One recipe will serve six generously. Eat it with unsalted white rice.

Because of the heavy spicing and hot peppers, this dish is a candidate only for beer, and not wine. Alternatively, a cold limeade or iced tea would go well.

Pork Vindaloo

2 1/4 pounds lean pork (butt or loin)
Marinade
1/4 cup wine vinegar or white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 teaspoons turmeric
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
4 whole cloves
4 whole green cardamom pods
1 large stick cinnamon, broken in half
2 bay leaves, broken in half
Curry
2 medium-large onions, diced
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste or 2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Cilantro for topping

Trim off excess fat from meat. Cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Marinate, cold, 12 to 24 hours with vinegar, garlic and seasonings. Stir from time to time.

In heavy stainless steel or enamel pan (not cast iron or aluminum), fry onions slowly in oil, stirring frequently, until beginning to turn golden.

Add ginger and garlic. Fry, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Add tomato paste or tomatoes, and stir and fry briefly.

Add pork and its marinade. Increase heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until meat loses raw color. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until pork is tender. Add a little water from time to time, so the sauce stays thickly soupy. Add salt when meat is nearly done.

Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving. Taste and add salt, if necessary. The dish is richer in flavor if made ahead and reheated.

When serving, sprinkle generously with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves. Accompany with unsalted white rice.

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