Goan Pork Vindaloo

When I was a student in London in the 1970s, Indian food was an inexpensive treat. The curry houses in those days always had a pork vindaloo on the menu, but only for the brave or foolhardy, we used to think, for it was always made very chile hot.

Since then, we’ve eaten vindaloo dishes in Goa (where they originated) and elsewhere in India, and we’ve made them at home. They’re easy and most rewarding. Tastes are hot, yes (from a mix of ground mustard seed, dried chiles, ginger, and black pepper), but also clean and direct. There’s no coconut milk, no yogurt, just a slightly acidic (from vinegar) spice paste that tenderizes and flavors the meat.

In Goa, the chiles are usually only medium hot, and very bright red, like the chiles of Kashmir. They’re hard to find here, so we substitute dried red chiles from Thailand. If you’re worried that this dish may be too hot, reduce the number of chiles. Then, if you find the dish is too mild, you can always add a pinch of cayenne powder to up the heat as the dish is simmering.

Traditionally in Goa, the dried spices are ground with a mortar and a pestle, using a little vinegar to moisten the mixture and make a paste. If you use a spice/coffee grinder, add the vinegar after the spices are ground, as directed here.

The meat is rubbed with salt, then with the marinade, and it marinates for 4 to 12 hours. The vinegar-spice paste makes the meat flavorful and tender, and final cooking is very quick. The only rule with vindaloo is, don’t add water, just liquid flavorings. We add a little more vinegar, for sourness, as Goans do, but in Goa traditionally the sourness would come from kokum (fish tamarind). We use medium-dry sake or vodka or rice wine as a substitute for the Goan liquor feni, which is made from fermenting cashew apples or coconut.

Use a cut of pork with a little fat, such as pork butt or shoulder; the fat gives tenderness and flavor. Because the meat simmers under a tight lid, there is no evaporation, so there’s plenty of delicious sauce.

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Ingredients

  • About 1 pound boneless pork butt, shoulder, or belly, trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite-size pieces
  • teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons raw sesame oil, coconut oil, or peanut oil
  • About ½ cup minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup medium-dry sake, vodka, or Chinese rice wine

Spice Paste

  • 5 dried red chiles, stemmed and crumbled, or 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 clove or a pinch of ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger or ginger mashed to a paste
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sugar

Method

Place the pork in a bowl and sprinkle on all sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.

Make the spice paste. To use a spice/coffee grinder, place the chiles and all the whole spices in the grinder and reduce to a powder. Turn out into a small bowl and add the ground spices. Add the garlic, ginger, and vinegar and stir to mix, using the spoon to smear the mixture against the side of the bowl to blend it well. To use a mini-chopper, grind the chiles and whole spices as fine as possible in the chopper and transfer to a small bowl. Place the garlic and ginger in the chopper and chop to a fine paste, then add all the ground spices. Transfer to the small bowl and stir in the vinegar. To use a mortar and a pestle, start by pounding or grinding the chiles and whole spices, then add the garlic and ginger and pound or grind to a paste, moistening the mixture with some or all of the vinegar. Transfer to a small bowl. If you didn’t add the full 2 tablespoons vinegar as you were grinding, add the balance now.

Stir the sugar into the spice blend and then add to the meat, turning and stirring to coat the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 12 hours, whatever is most convenient.

Place a large wok or karhai or a wide heavy pot over high heat. Add the oil, and when it is hot, add the meat and any excess marinade. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, until all sides of the meat have changed color. Add the onion and stir-fry another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vinegar and the sake, vodka, or wine and bring to a boil. Stir-fry briefly, then cover and lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is very soft and the meat is tender.

Add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and stir well, then taste and adjust if you wish. Serve hot.

Serve with rice and a mild side dish, such as stir-fried greens or Aromatic Pumpkin and Coconut, or a sweet salad, such as Tomato, Red Onion, and Yellow Pepper Salad with Yogurt Dressing.

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