In 2009, before this blog was even a twinkle in my eye, I went to Portugal and got hooked on the food.
One of my favorite dishes was Pork and Clams Alentejo-Style. Not long after we got back a Portuguese friend shared this recipe with me from her blog (which I can vouch is tasty although it does not involve the 4-6+ hour marinade I’ve seen in a lot of other recipes) and I have made it many times since. I mix the spice blend in large quantities and keep it on hand. We love, love, love this food. I used to go out to Atasca in Cambridge and order this dish and just be happy.
My friend Katie (different friend; I am lucky) is married to a Portuguese (and had a honeymoon in the Azores, the 500 photos of which I absolutely devoured) and recently told me that I should try making Portuguese Massa Sovada, an Easter treat in their house. I said, OK. And I figured I’d make a meal of it and do the pork and clams, too.
The bread (the Massa Sovada) got off to a rough start when I misread the instructions and added the eggs and yeast before half the flour. Was this make or break? I have no idea. The recipe directs the baker to scald the milk, and though I learned this wasn’t necessary because my milk is pasteurized, I heated it anyway because the next step seemed to involve butter melting, and I figured cold milk wasn’t melting any butter.
The recipe also says the dough will be thick, and mine was incredibly sticky. Almost as soon as I started mixing it, the batter climbed up the mixer whisks and got jammed all in the holes where you attach the mixer whisks. At this point I was scraping dough out of the mixer with a toothpick and thinking, “Thanks, Katie,” and also picturing the headline: “The Bread That Ate My Mixer.”
So I pretty much detached the mixer and started mixing by hand. The next step was kneading for approximately fifteen minutes, and kneading is really not my favorite thing. The sticky dough was all over the place and finally Tim intervened and said, “I don’t think that’s how you knead.” Well, fine, Mr. Dough Guru. Tim stepped in, using a lot more flour than I had been, and produced a pretty smooth dough that we stuck in a buttered bowl to do its first rise.
One thing I have really improved at is reading ahead in recipes. There used to be many occasions where I would get into a recipe, thinking dinner or dessert was right around the corner, and then read something along the lines of: Cover and marinate for at least five hours. Or: Chill until firm, roughly three hours. The Massa Sovada recipe is a good one to read ahead in, because it involves not just one rise, but two long-ish rises. Luckily, I was prepared. The rising went according to plan, and about 3.5 hours later, we were baking. (Note: I halved the recipe. It makes two loaves.)
During the multiple rises, I got the pork going. This recipe also involves long phases (so much good cooking does, it turns out). Initially you rub pork cubes with a spice mixture and let it rest (I put mine in the fridge, but you probably don’t have to unless it’s hot) for up to an hour. Try to hold out for the maximum.
After that, you painstakingly brown all the little pieces, giving them personal space, and wind up cooking some onions and garlic and bay leaves and tomato paste and then deglazing all the delicious bits with a bunch of white wine (I always find the amount in the recipe too much, so I add it as seems right at the time).
Once the pork is re-involved, this thing simmers for an hour. Again: the reading ahead. During that hour I fry up a ton of cubed potatoes. At the end you throw on the clams and let them steam on top, and then you eat, eat, eat.
Um, Meghan, those aren’t clams. So true. Clams are strangely hard to come by here. I see them only in certain places and I am loathe to shell out (ha) the high cost, since my conclusion is that if they’re that rare, they’re probably being imported from mucho far away. We substitute shrimp. I’m not Portuguese. It works. But if you can get clams, do that.
As we devoured the pork and shrimp, the oven beeped, and for dessert we had sweet bread (not sweetbread). The egg glaze on top made it dark and shiny, it came easily out of the pan, and it smelled delicious. Sure enough, it was. It is a very soft, sweet, highly eatable bread that we all just wanted to snack on. Katie tells me it is a winner for French toast, for grilled cheese, or dunked in coffee.
Though we didn’t have any vinho verde on hand, we did manage to finish the evening in an appropriate Portuguese manner.