No Iberian meal is complete without pork. The importance and prevalence of the meat in the national cuisines of Spain and Portugal cannot be overstated. In fact, had I not already been weaning myself off my fishetarian ways, I would surely have starved to death during our month-long sojourn in Spain.
But that’s okay, for the pork in Iberia is exceptional. There are of course the cured hams, such as the famous jamòn serrano and jamòn iberico, the latter of which comes from pigs that dine exclusively on the acorns of black oak trees in central Spain. Iberico in its uncured state is succulent and tender, and unlike anything we have here in the states. The meat itself is darker, with a strong nutty flavor.
I knew the main course of the dinner had to be pork, but sought inspiration. I turned to the trusty Time-Life Foods of the World series, expecting to find a Spanish recipe that would transport me back to our trip. In fact, the recipe that spoke to me was Portuguese.
Pork and clams: What a delightful turn on the classic surf and turf. It sounds incongruous at first, but the two proteins have a strange affinity, as if they were long-lost cousins, star-crossed lovers from different worlds. Only in the sweet afterlife, and on the dinner table, could they be united.
A sidenote about Spain v. Portugal. Despite their tightly linked heritages, there is a clear tension between the two cultures. Whilst in Granada, enjoying a sherry at a local restaurant, we were entranced by the music. The bartender informed us it was a Portuguese group, Madredeus. We loved the soulful, fado-inflected songs. Later, in Madrid, we were perusing a record store, looking for a few choice items to bring home; Madredeus was at the top of our list. We searched through pop, to no avail. Asking one clerk after another, we ended up working our way through several sections, down floor after floor, until we finally found them in the “World” section, alongside tribal drumming and chanting. Keep in mind we are talking about a contemporary popular group from a country that shares the same peninsula.
Intra-Iberian politics aside, this dish is a keeper, though I cannot help but feel like it constitutes a culinary “screw you” to the Jews and Moors so maligned in Iberian history. I mean, pork and clams? Why not throw some milk in for good measure? Gentile that I am, I take no exception.