Pig cheek vindaloo

I’ve been thinking about vindaloo ever since I got back from Goa where I spent two weeks hunting for the perfect one. Finding a single best vindaloo is very difficult because it is a dish with two very distinct personalities depending on where you are in the world.

In England or America we know it as a mind-numbingly hot challenge of a dish in which chunks of lamb are submerged under a brick-red sauce containing more chillies than Mexico’s yearly yield. It was mostly popular with a brand of macho sweaty men in the 90’s, some football players and Fat Les. (And as far as I know, might still be popular with macho sweaty men in 2014.) It is a dish in its own right, nevertheless.

In India, it’s really only available in Goa, where the dish originated from and is traditionally made with pork. Few other states in India consume pork but as Goa was under Portuguese rule for 451 years from 1510 to 1961 and the Portuguese happen to be some of the pig’s biggest fans, there it is consumed en-masse and mostly with chilli which was also introduced to India by the Portuguese.

In fact the original Vindaloo is an adaptation of the Portuguese ‘vinho e alhos’ meaning ‘wine and garlic’ in which the pork is marinated and cooked in white wine vinegar (now coconut/toddy vinegar) and garlic combined with a warming garam masalas of pepper, cloves and cinnamon. The overall effect is sweet and sour, pungent and warming. The sauce is thin, not cloying and yes hot, but not ear-tinglingly so. The pork is of the best kind: succulent sweet and soft.

It is the Goan vindaloo which I love and for which I have re-created my perfect vindaloo recipe for here.

The recipe uses pig cheek. Somewhat of an unknown cut which is cheap (£10.80/ kg at Turner and George) but slowly gathering a reputation for itself (Nigel Slater put it on the country’s plate in OFM last week.)  You may think that these little pockets of muscle might not have anything to offer but cooked long and slow they transform into magical silky soft threads of pork which yield easily to sauce and under teeth and tongue. Worth hunting down for sure but you could use shank (un-smoked) or shoulder too if you like.

Pig cheek vindaloo

Serves 5-6

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 5 dried red Kashmiri chillies
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 20 black peppercorns
  • 10cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 large onions, (red or white) finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 4cm ginger, grated
  • 200g crushed tinned tomatoes
  • 3/4 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1 kg pig cheek, cut into 4cm x 3cm pieces

Recipe note: A heavy-bottomed casserole pot is ideal for this dish (like a Le Creuset) and you’ll need some sort of grinder, even if it’s your bare hands and a pestle and mortar. 

Put 1 tablespoon of oil into the pot and heat over a medium heat. When hot add the chillies, pepper, star anise, cinnamon and cumin into a pan and stir-fry until the peppercorns swell and you can smell all the spices.

Tip the spices out into a spice grinder (coffee grinder or pestle and mortar) and grind together with 4 tablespoons of vinegar and put to one side.

In the same pot, add 2 tablespoons of oil, when hot, throw in the onions. Cook the onions for 15 minutes on a medium heat until they are soft, browning and caramelized then turn down the heat a little and add the sliced garlic.

finely sliced onions

Stir the garlic through and add the grated ginger, stir again then add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes then add the spice and vinegar paste, sugar, salt and turmeric.  Stir and add the pig cheek.

vindaloo stages

Coat the meat with the spice paste then just cover with hot (not boiling) water. Stir and bring to a rolling boil then put the lid on and turn the heat down. Leave to cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with hot water if need be. The longer you cook it, the more the meat will fall apart (eventually, you would end up with a ragu). When the meat is straining to hold it’s shape is about right for this recipe. Taste, adjust the salt, sugar and spice as you like and serve with steamy rice or soft fluffy naan bread.