Before there was Indian vindaloo, there was Portuguese carne vinha d’alhos. And before carne vinha d’alhos was a popular Christmas meal, it was the sturdy grub of sailors trading with India.
A specialty of the island of Madeira, carne vinha d’alhos features chunks of savory pork marinated in white wine, vinegar, garlic and a wild thyme called sogrelha. The meat was preserved in lard-packed barrels for long sea voyages to places like the colony of Goa. Sailors would fry up ladlefuls for quick, filling meals.
But, of course, it evolved. In Goa, locals substituted lamb for the pork, and over time, the name morphed into the common Indian restaurant dish now enjoyed around the world. Meanwhile, in Madeira, the original dish remains especially popular at Christmastime, when families visit one another to check out elaborate Nativity scenes.
Many cooks marinate the pork for days, but not always. Madeira native Jack Ventura offered to teach me a quicker version of the dish at his apartment in the capital, Funchal. He seasons it—usually shoulder, but this time loin—with salt, pepper and heaps of oregano (a good substitute for the sogrelha). The meat is covered in a 2-to-1 blend of white wine and cider vinegar, then marinated for 30 minutes, turning from pink to white.
Rich aromas fill the kitchen as Ventura simmers the meat in the marinade—adding a splash of the island’s namesake fortified wine for sweetness. He then strains the liquid and finishes cooking the pork in lard until it’s juicy and succulent.
It’s delicious spooned onto a crispy roll, which quickly soaks up the sweet-tangy sauce. We loved that no long marinade was necessary for such a delicious sandwich—nor was any time at sea.