Most people in Britain probably think of vindaloo as a spicy lamb dish, sold in Indian restaurants and as a ready meal from supermarkets. However, vindaloo actually started off as a Portuguese pork or rabbit dish – Carne de vinha d’alhos, meat marinated with wine and garlic.
The Portuguese discovered India in 1498 and established their colony and trading posts over the next 100 years or so. Carne de vinha d’alhos came with the sailors, packed in barrels. Some say the pork was layered with garlic and wine, though centuries earlier, the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans arriving in Iberia were well aware of the preserving properties of vinegar and the Moors who filled the Roman vacuum were known to have preserved meat and fish (in escabeche like dishes) with vinegar thereafter. So to my mind Portuguese sailors would have used wine vinegar, not wine, to preserve their meat, as Portuguese chefs do today.
Vindaloo became a staple food in Portuguese Goa, made by Franciscan priests, who’d gone to “save” the natives. Since wine vinegar was unavailable to the Franciscans, they made an alternative from fermented palm wine instead. Local ingredients, such as cinnamon, tamarind, black pepper and cardamom were added, along with chilli from Portuguese colonies in South America. When the British arrived in India, they liked vindaloo so much they brought it home. Duck vindaloo was a particular favourite. Early English cookbooks stuck to the traditional Goan recipe, though over the last century or so, British vindaloo has became a hot curry, without the vinegar marinade.
First of all, make a masala (which can be a wet or dry mixture) to marinate the meat.
The Masala (spice mix for the marinade):
75ml red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot pimentón de la vera
2 teaspoons dulce pimentón de la vera
a level teaspoonful ground cinnamon
a level teaspoonful ground turmeric
8 cardamom pods
20 black peppercorns
1 level teaspoon coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
Warm all the whole masala spices (not the powdered ingredients) in a dry frying pan until they start to give off an aroma (don’t get them too hot, as they will burn) – this will bring out the flavours.
Remove the warm spices to a mortar (remove the cardamom seeds from their pods) and grind them up with a pestle.
Rabbit Vindaloo (serves 4):
2 strips of pork belly (rind removed and cubed)
1 rabbit chopped into about 14 pieces
2 large onions (chopped)
1 head of garlic (finely chopped)
3 large tomatoes (grated)
3 small red and green chillies (chopped)
a piece of ginger about the size of thumb (grated)
2 dessertspoonfuls of tomato purée
a squirt of anchovy paste
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
a large pinch of crushed dried chillies
a large pinch of sea salt
additional red wine vinegar to taste (if required)
The rabbit’s blood – mix this with a little red wine vinegar to stop it congealing, cover and keep it in the fridge until required
I added two strips of chopped pork belly to the rabbit, for fat and flavour (…and of course one does want to keep the Inquisition at bay!), as wild rabbit is rather lean.
Chop the rabbit into about 14 pieces and put all the meat into a container that will fit in the fridge.
Sprinkle on all the masala spices and pour on the red wine vinegar.
Mix the meat and marinade with your hands – it’s messy, but probably does the best job. Cover and allow the meat to marinate for 24 hours or so. Do take the meat out of the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.
When you are ready to cook, fry two large onions in olive oil, until they go translucent.
Stir the chopped garlic and grated ginger into the onions,
before adding the red and green chillis.
Grate three large tomatoes into the onion mixture
and allow this to cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle on the crushed chilli, black mustard seeds and sea salt, along with a squirt of anchovy paste and tomato purée,
Stir all the meat and marinade into the vegetables, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and allow to cook for an hour.
After 60 minutes, taste the vindaloo and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Stir in the rabbit blood and vinegar mixture to thicken the sauce. Cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is tender. Do add a little water if the sauce gets too thick.
Serve with basmati rice, chapatis or nan bread. I’m very fond of aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower in a spicy sauce) as an accompaniment and perhaps a little lemon pickle (which is very hard to find in the UK).