“If you want to get strong eat meat, if you want to get smart eat fish.”
This truism was handed down to Karen Andrade by her father when she was a child growing up in Goa, on the Western coast of India. It was his constant, joking advice to visiting friends and family, for whom he often cooked special meals like his pigling roast, a decadent hunk of fatty pork braised on the stovetop in a mixture of warm spices, ginger and garlic, fresh herbs, red chilies, and vinegar—the last a constant in many Goan dishes, which are famous for their blend of the salty, sweet, fiery, and tangy. The word “pigling,” like the spices the recipe employs, is distinctly Goan, used as if to stamp the little beasts with a mark of the locals’ particular affection for them. Though Goan roast pigling may not have made a name for itself in the wider world, its cousin, Vindaloo, has. Though it’s often forced to represent all of Indian cuisine abroad, in reality, it is one of the many Portuguese-inflected dishes that make up the fascinating cuisine of Goa and many neighboring parts of the Western coast of India.
Andrade tells me about her father as she sears a loin of pork in a heavy cast-iron skillet. The pork sizzles madly as it makes contact with the pan, giving off the distinct aroma of clove and cinnamon and filling the kitchen with a veil of smoke. “Don’t worry, the fire alarm is disconnected,” she jokes, deftly turning the meat in the pan and continuing with her story. Her father, she says, took responsibility for all the festive meals cooked in the house. Mutton and pork were his domain—dishes, as he might say, that make you strong. To counter all this culinary brawniness, though, Andrade explains, he insisted on pairing rich meat dishes with simple steamed vegetables. “For dinner we could have a meat dish but then just some steamed vegetables on the side.” His theory was that you couldn’t really taste the vegetables when they were cooked too elaborately. Regular side dishes included cabbage or even okra, lightly steamed and seasoned with just a little salt.
Andrade’s version of pigling roast has taken many turns away from her father’s original recipe. Over the years she has refined the recipe to suit her own tastes, opting for lean pork tenderloin instead of the belly or shoulder. While she loves the unctuousness of the original, she complains that it’s too time-consuming for life in New York City. “Listen, I can’t wait two hours for this thing to cook,” she says, laughing. The tenderloin, marinated a day in advance with a dry rub comes together in less than half an hour.
While Andrade doesn’t replicate the steamed okra for our meal, she does keep the spirit of the tradition alive by accompanying the roast pork with a simple salad of shredded red cabbage and slivers of mango dressed with a light vinaigrette. As the pork rests, Andrade sets the table with the other dishes in this Goan feast. There’s a deep bowl of a deliciously (and extravagantly) spiced chickpea dish traditionally made by Hindus in the southern part of Goa. The recipe, Andrade tells me, is one that she inherited from her childhood nanny. Alongside a heaped platter of rice there is a small bowl of fish pickle, madder-colored, funky, smoky, and chewy, like fish jerky in a fiery-sweet sauce. The pork, carved into hearty slices, still has a blush of pink at the center, and is fragrant and tender, perfect as the centerpiece for a late weekend lunch with friends.
You don't have to fuss with a suckling pig to have delicious, tender roast pork. Karen's recipe for roast pork tenderloin is easy to make, and flavored with warm clove, cinnamon, and black pepper.