Monday, 24 April 2017

Time and tide waits for no man, the new surf and turf

I am a product of that era of cooking in which surf-and-turf was the be-all and end-all, the epitome of gourmet cuisine, the go-to meal for all special occasions (except those at which Chateaubriand was served, of course).Surf and turf is one of those dishes that sadly doesn’t get much in the way of respect nowadays. One of the hallmarks of middlebrow “Continental cuisine” in vogue in the 1960s and 70s, a plate of pallid steak and tough defrosted lobster graced the menu at restaurants ranging from fine-dining establishments to local bistrots in an effort to appeal to those looking to give the impression of being classy (the word “ersatz” comes to mind a bit when referring to the dish). But that era is over and today the chefs who include this legendary dish on their menus do not want a poor imitation they are finally treating it with the respect it deserves.
They saying goes "time and tide wait for no man. We now live in an era when every classic dish seems ripe for innovation, and surf and turf is no exception. Today you’ll find surf and turf burgers on restaurant menus, as well as dishes including braised beef with shrimp paste being called  “surf and turf.”
Obviously, surf refers to seafood and turf to livestock fed on grass.Carne de Porco à Alentejana is a traditional Portuguese Pork and Clams dish which originates in part from the Portuguese region of Alentejo.The combination of pork and clams in this dish is unusual, but creates a rich flavour that makes it easy to see why this stew has become so popular across the country. Whoever thought to toss clams into a pot of stewed pork was a genius idea?! It sounds like an unlikely combination; and to some, it’s just plain weird, but consider it the Portuguese version of Surf and turf .
The real reason this is such a spectacular a pairing isn’t because of the “meat” of the dish; it’s what it produces at the end. A sauce that can only come from the harmony created when land and sea come together. I could happily give up the pork and clams as long as I get that residual sauce at the bottom and a loaf of Pão Alentejano to absorb it.
Contrary to what one would think, Carne de Porco à Alentejana did not originate in the Alentejo as its name would suggest. It was the cooks of the Algarve that originally came up with the idea to mix the two unlikely food friends. One suggestion as to why, was to add clams in order to mask a “fishy” tasting pork that came from the region, as the pigs down south would be fed fish scraps and it changed how the pork tasted.
The “Alentejana“ reference was to indicate where the pork was sourced; the Alentejo region north of the Algarve. Here the pigs’ diet mainly consisted of cork oak acorns thus creating gorgeous tasting meat. These pigs didn’t just have a better diet though. Alentejo is also home to the highly prized Porco Preto Ibérico, or black Iberian pig. If you don’t know much about this pig, maybe you’ve heard of the Spanish Jamon Iberico, a cured ham with similarities to Portuguese presunto.
It may not sound like the most compatible two foods. I mean pork is good on its own and clams are famous in soups and pasta; but I assure you, it’s a must have when visiting Portugal, no matter what region you visit. The best part is to amaze the naysayers at home by making your own pot. Even if they don’t like pork or clams by themselves, just give them a bowl of the sauce at the bottom and some bread. It’s the best way to turn them into believers! Or why not do what I did and put my own take on the dish by introducing ginger noodles into the equation.Since carnival this year I have got a taste for cajun spice, and I thought that I would spice up tradition with a surf and turf pasta dish.I would combine wonderfully fresh raw prawns with acorn fed black pig and amp this up with a cajun seasoning, a dash of cayenne pepper, sauteed onions and garlic, cream and white wine  Rich and decadent, with a bit of heat.Prawns pasta,spicy cream sauce a dash of wine.What’s not to love here?
Spicy Cajun pork and prawn fettucine
serves 4
500g (1 pound) medium or large raw prawns, peeled and de-veined
300g  Pork loin cut into strips
1 tablespoon Cajun spice mix
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 pound cooked fettuccine
2 spring onions or bunch of chives, chopped (for garnish)

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons Cajun spice over the shrimp, toss to coat.Repeat with the pork. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add prawns to skillet, and cook for about 2 minutes. Flip prawns over and cook for 1 minute more. Remove to plate and set aside.Repeat with the pork Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onions, and garlic. Sprinkle on remaining Cajun spice, and add salt if needed. Cook over medium high heat until garlic and onions are tender. Remove all vegetables from the pan to a plate, and set aside.
With the pan over high heat, pour in the wine and chicken broth. Cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Reduce heat to medium low and pour in cream, whisking constantly. Cook sauce over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until cream starts to thicken the mixture. Add cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Return  the vegetables and the pork to the sauce. Stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and hot.At the same time re-heat the previously cooked prawns in a pan with a little oil. Add drained fettuccine and toss to combine. Serve the prawns on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with spring onions or chives for garnish.

Homemade Cajun Seasoning
Homemade Cajun seasoning has just the right amount of kick with flavours of garlic, onion, thyme, oregano  and cayenne pepper.There many good quality brands on the market but if you have time to make your own it enhances any recipe.
½ cup Paprika
⅓ cup Flor de sal
¼ cup Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper (or 2 use tablespoons black pepper)
2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper (optional- won't be spicy without this)
2 Tablespoons dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon dried Thyme
2 tablespoons dried basil
    Mix all ingredients in jar or food processor and store in an airtight container. Good on stir fries, eggs, casseroles, fish and poultry. You can add more or less Cayenne to get to your taste to suit your palate.

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