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July 9, 2014

A steely marinade for sea’s bounty

'Wine of garlic' seasons bluefish as well as pork beautifully

The word “galvanized,” with its steely, strong, clean implications, is a great word to use for anything on a hot summer day.

“Galvanized” is exactly the term cooks use when they marinate fish or pork in this famous Portuguese vinegar and garlic marinade; call it Vinha D’Alhos, or vinya thyle, if you’re Portuguese or Azorean, or if you happen to live in New Bedford. In New Bedford, the Portuguese community is so vital the city is home to the largest Portuguese festival in the world — The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament in early August — where Carne de Vinho e Alhos, “delicious pork cubes marinating in Madeira wine, garlic and Portuguese spices and herbs and cooked to perfection,” is served to thousands.

Literally translated, Vinha D’Alhos means “wine of garlic.” (Yes, the festival version translates as wine and garlic, but the original dish is wine of garlic.) The Portuguese were clearly aware of this fragrant allium’s promises. Originally used to preserve fish and meats, the marinade’s resulting deliciousness has outlived its use as a preservative, according to Howard Mitchum in “The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook.” The recipe was just too good to give up with the invention of the refrigerator.

This is truly a wonderfully simple if not transformative recipe to have on hand in the summer; an easy alchemy of vinegar, water (wine is a little more elegant), garlic, onions and some spices can reinvent a plain pork chop to a meltingly tender, garlic-infused grilled dinner, a “transcendental pork chop,” declares Mitchum. The Portuguese love treating pork this way, and are free-wheeling with the marinade, letting the chops soak for up to three days. This must be tried.

But the delicacy of sole, halibut, even redfish and very fresh bluefish seems particularly happy to dance with the staccato of vinegar, garlic and onions. Marinate any of these fish for up to an hour; pat them dry, and broil or grill as you would. Even breaded and fried, a piece of “galvanized” cod is delicious. If you are inclined to sauté the marinated fish in a pan, Mitchum recommends using salt pork or bacon fat instead of butter, which may curdle from the vinegar.

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