A real vindaloo and the Portuguese connection

Forget what “English Indian” restaurants call a Vindaloo, and sample the real thing

If we order a vindaloo curry at most high street Indian restaurants in the UK, or indeed at the majority of Indian restaurants here in the Algarve, what we usually get is the standard house curry spiced up with extra chilli. This has very little in common with a real vindaloo; a Goan Indian dish that has its roots and its name firmly planted in Portugal.

The name vindaloo comes directly from the Portuguese cooking technique “vinha de alhos” – basically meat that is marinated in vinegar (in the old days) or wine, with garlic. It’s a well-documented fact that it was the Portuguese in the 15th century who introduced the chilli to Asia, so most of the spicy Asian food we enjoy can be loosely connected to Portugal. But when they first colonised Goa back in 1510, their pork meat preserved in vinegar was spiced up by the Indians resulting in the vindaloo. 

To make a proper vindaloo takes time, both for marinating and for gentle slow cooking. It is best made with pork meat, not prime cuts but a mix of leg and neck meat works well.

There is no need to follow a set recipe, but for best results dry-roast whole Indian spices in a pan combining cloves, cardamom, cumin seed, coriander and a cinnamon stick along with dried chillis. Roast until fragrant and then grind to a powder. Or you can just use your favourite curry powder. Combine the curry powder with white wine vinegar and lots of finely chopped garlic, coat the cubed meat in the resulting paste and marinate for at least 12 hours.

To cook, simply fry some sliced onions and chopped fresh ginger in ghee or unsalted butter. Add the meat and the marinade and fry until the meat is sealed. A real vindaloo does not have yoghurt or coconut milk as a base to the sauce. Just cover with water and cook generally until tender (around two hours). When almost ready, increase the heat and keep stirring to reduce the sauce. The finished dish should have only enough sauce to coat the meat.

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