When the Portuguese arrived within the early 1500s or 500 years ago they brought new fruit crops like pineapple, cashew nuts tobacco and the cayenne. They also brought with them new ways of preparing foods, such as the vindaloo recipe that was based on marinating meat in vinegar.
The Portuguese ruled Goa right until 1961, and therefore the Estado da India Portuguesa had a deep influence on the food and culture of its people and eventually the remainder of the country.
Vindaloo derives from the Portuguese dish referred to as Carne de Vinhas d’alhos – or meat preserved in wine and garlic. To this day it’s made in Madeira where it’s a way paler dish as compared to its Goan offshoot.
In both places it’s served at Christmas and other occasions. Carne de Vinhas d’alhos has been called the dish that took the planet by storm because it travelled as far because the Caribbean where it’s referred to as garlic pork to this day.
According to old Portuguese Goan sources, a vindaloo recipe has an almost pickle or confit like quality as meat is cooked in its own fat with minimal water and uses vinegar liberally. Maria Teresa Menezes, who has extensively documented Goan Catholic recipes says that meat cooked during this way can keep for an extended time and it had been carried by travelers.
One wonders if it had been delivered to India by the Portuguese on their ships! Probably not but the will to eat it certainly did and therefore the dish evolved in India with the influences of local spices like cloves, black pepper and cassia to its present form. It also appeared to contain more heat within the sort of chilies which in fact were delivered to India by the Portuguese.
While there’s little question that the first vindaloo was made with pork, there appears to be some lack of clarity of about the cut of pork that ought to be used. Some modern recipes recommend lean pork possibly due to the phobia of consuming fat . Others recommend the robust cut of pork shoulder.
But a number of the older family recipes use fatty pork. Menezes’s recipe involves side of pork and therefore the dish is cooked within the fat without the utilization of oil. Food historian KT Achaya says Vindaloo is formed of pork meat, pork fat and blood.
It was usual practice to utilize the maximum amount of the animal as possible in most meat eating cultures therefore the use of blood wouldn’t be surprising. Although pork has been historically consumed among several castes and tribes in India, the Portuguese arguably made it more mainstream especially through the spread of Christianity.
How hot should the Vindaloo sauce be?
It is quite likely that the first recipe of pork vindaloo wasn’t super hot because the chillies grown within the region are mild – the Bedige chilli (same as Byadgi in northern Karnataka). These impart a stunning red colour without the searing heat. Nowadays people substitute Bedige/Byadgi chilli with Kashmiri chilli which has similar properties. Whatever the combination of chilli, there’s little question that it’s hotter than the first Madeiran version.
The defining ingredient in Vindaloo is vinegar. The original Madeiran vindaloo recipe for Carne Vinha d’Alhos contains both wine and wine vinegar. Historian Lizzie Collingham says that there was no vinegar in India when the Portuguese arrived, therefore the enterprising catholic priests came up with coconut toddy vinegar.
However, that seems impossible as toddy naturally contains acetobacters that turn wine to vinegar very quickly. Also vinegars of varied kinds are known in India since past . They find mention in ancient Buddhist texts also because the Indian medical text Sushruta Samhita dating back to the 4th Century.
Several newer recipes in circulation involve tamarind although none of the older ones seem to say it. KT Achaya in his book (pg. 83, 187) refers to Kokum because the souring agent for Vindaloo. Again, not beyond the realms of imagination because it grows within the region.
The older Portuguese Goan family recipes involve palm toddy vinegar. But they also include a touch of coconut feni which may be a strong distilled alcoholic drink. This can be substituted with Vodka for the alcohol content but there’s no substitute for the flavor if the reality be told. The famous restaurant in Goa travel by Patrick and Merciana D’Souza uses coconut vinegar and cashew feni made up of the cashew fruit. So there’s clearly some variation in ingredients but locally made vinegar and feni would give Vindaloo the foremost authentic flavor.
In terms of spicing, chilli is that the main spice along side some black pepper, turmeric and cloves. Recipes that use a greater sort of spices or curry leaves and tomatoes appear to be modern innovations on the old theme. Here may be a recipe adapted from the recipe by Menezes with a couple of modifications to reflect the ingredients that are widely available.
Ingredients required for four people:
800 g pork belly dig 2″ cubes
1 large onion
6 large cloves of chef’s garlic
2 inches of root ginger
Salt as per your preference
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin (fresh is best)
½ tsp turmeric
4 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
10 black peppercorns
2 inches of cassia bark
Shot of vodka
2-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar.
Grind the onion, ginger, garlic and blend with salt, white wine vinegar, cumin and turmeric. Marinate the meat during this for a minimum of two hours, preferably overnight. To cook, place the marinated meat during a heavy bottomed pot.
Add a tablespoon of wine vinegar, the entire spices and vodka and simmer on a coffee heat for 2 hours or until the meat is totally tender. There should be a rich sauce. Adjust salt and chilli levels. Serve.