Thursday, April 11, 2013

Portugese Aletejana: A Bold Dish of Pork & Clams

As melodious food pairing names go, "pork and clams" just doesn't have the same ring as, say, "champagne and caviar," "wine and cheese," or even "peanut butter and jelly." But don't be put off.  The poetry on the plate that results when these two ingredients come together in one dish more than makes up for its slightly clunky name.

I first had this traditional Portugese dish - Aletejana, as it's more lyrically called in that language - on my recent trip to Lisbon, at a comfy, unfussy neighborhood spot called Churrascaria Gaucha:

What I loved about it was the aggressive use of salt (a theme in Portugese cooking, I found) and heavy hand with the application of paprika and cilantro. There were no half measures in this plate of food, and the almost-sweet pork and briny clams were all the better for it. Not pretty, but very memorable:
Carb overload: the ubiquitous fries on the side, here with rice
This was a dish, I knew from the first bite, that I would need to recreate at home. I believe that the easy (and sensible) route when it comes to this sort of thing is to look up established recipes and then, you know, follow them, but I am more perverse that that and like to make things difficult.

So I had a little chat with the server to confirm the ingredients I detected - paprika (pimenton, really), cilantro, garlic - and ascertain those I didn't - white wine, butter. My notes, from which I made the dish, read as follows:

BOLD w/salt
BOLD w/paprika
LOTS of cilantro
Smash loads of garlic, fry in butter, remove. Fry meat in olive oil, add white wine, cook. Add paprika and cilantro. Simmer.  Serve. [Not in my notes: Add the clams just at the end, and discard any that don't open.]

And that - along with a fair bit of tasting along the way -   led to this:

A big yes. My only changes: I added some of the garlic back in, and used little neck clams, as that is what I had available. And I really hope it goes without saying that you need to simmer the thing until the pork is cooked.

The lesson here (if I am going to be didactic/annoying and insist that all cooking and/or eating must, or should, teach us something relatable to the greater world) is that one must never, ever be afraid to be bold.


  1. Back in the early 80's I used to do a comedy review with a drag queen friend of mine. We billed ourselves "Pork and Clams". Like this dish, we were "poetry on a plate". Ah, good times. This is the kind of food I ADORE ordering when we travel. My companions look at me in astonishment as they order their pedestrian, safe fare and I get to keep an entire plate of pork and clams to myself. Never be afraid to be bold!

  2. I have eaten this dish once. I remember being so bewildered when I saw the description in the menu I had to eat it. And it was very good. I like your version even more, would love to taste.

  3. this looks great and i adore recreating dishes after I return home ;-)

  4. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven!! Brilliant work!

  5. Looks delicious! I'd probably hold back a little on the salt, but everything else I can add with aggression! ;)

  6. How funny. I have this pork sausage left over from my latest dish and wanted to put some into a pasta with clams.. it was asking to be made. I think I'll try a version of this. Delicious dish.

  7. Love this dish. Please see your recipe in Top 5 recipes of the week on Helen's Cooking Blog http:/www/ which will be posted later today! And thank you for sharing!

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  9. It's a fabulous combination! I went to school in Providence, RI where there is a large Portuguese (Azorian) community, and remember this dish well. Absolutely a match that was meant to be.

  10. I encountered this dish everywhere I went during my stay in Estoril as a touring musician in the early 80's. Fast forward to 2006; I'm an executive chef and put this on the menu. I must admit, I tweaked this considerably. I found that the best treatment of the clams was to quickly steam them just until they opened, then submerge them in a bath of warm, melted butter, garlic, smoked paprika and cilantro. I then arranged them on top of the simmered pork, splashing all with some of the melted butter marinade and a squeeze of lime. My customers were in heaven.

  11. I too had my first tate in Lisbon and have made it quite often ever since...It is one of my favorite dishes...thanks for posting it.

  12. Trixie you always come back from your travels with such delicious inspiration and photographs. This dish is something I know I would devour in minutes. Either I need to fly to Lisbon or see about some clams. Thanks for sharing and making my mouth water.:)