While traditional British Christmas food is rich enough to send you to sleep, in Goa they prefer to celebrate in more lively style with a feast at which the centrepiece is often sorpotel – pork in a festive, red sauce that’s hot with chillies and sour with the region’s beloved coconut vinegar. It’s best made several days ahead – “This is a dish that requires time,” notes Mumbai-based caterer Pauline Dias – and is traditionally served with steamed rice cakes, but it’s also delicious with rice.
Prep 30 min
Cook 2¼ hr
For the meat
800g pork shoulder
200g pork liver (optional, see step 1)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
10g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tbsp salt
Oil or lard (optional)
2 red onions
Coconut sugar, or jaggery or soft brown sugar, to taste
For the masala paste
20 dried kashmiri chillies (see step 3)
¼ tsp black peppercorns
5cm cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
15g fresh ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
50ml Goan toddy vinegar, or red-wine vinegar, plus extra to taste
1 A note on the meat
Traditionally, sorpotel is made with a mixture of meat, offal and blood, but these days the blood is often omitted. You should be able to get hold of pork liver from your butcher, though you could also substitute it with lamb liver, chicken livers or other offal (food writer Jonathan Nunn suggests a pig’s ear). Alternatively, if you’re not a fan of offal, make up the weight with more pork shoulder or belly.
2 Boil the meat
Crush or grate the garlic and ginger, and put them in a large pot with the meat. Add the salt and about 600ml cold water, then bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, turning the pork as required and removing the liver, if using, halfway through – you only want to cook the meat until it’s firm enough to slice, because it will be cooked more later.
3 A note on the chillies
Meanwhile, make a start on the masala paste – mine is based on Denise D’silva Sankhé’s version for Serious Eats. Remove the stems from the dried chillies, if necessary; though it’s hard to get hold of Goan chillies in the UK, the distinctively wrinkled and relatively mild kashmiri chillies are available in south-Asian food stores and online. If you can only find hotter dried chillies, reduce the number you use accordingly.
4 Make the masala paste
Toast the chillies, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then reduce to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar.
Mash in the peeled garlic and ginger, then add the vinegar and pound or blitz to a paste (this can be made several days in advance and refrigerated).
5 Chop the meat
Drain the meat, saving the cooking liquor, and cut it all into chunks (traditionally, it’s cut small, but larger pieces are less likely to dry out), trimming off and saving any large chunks of fat. Cut the reserved fat into small pieces, put it in the now-empty casserole and cook over a fairly low heat until it begins to render. Alternatively, add a little lard or oil to the pan.
6 Brown the meat
Fry the meat in batches in the hot fat on a medium-high heat until lightly golden, then transfer to a large plate or bowl. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the onions. Once all the meat is browned and out of the pot, turn down the heat slightly and add the onions to the pan, along with a little more fat, if necessary.
7 Fry the onions and spice paste
Saute the onions, stirring to make sure they don’t catch and burn, until limp and beginning to brown. Add the masala paste and fry, stirring regularly, for about five minutes, until it begins to lose the smell of raw spice and garlic. Stir about 500ml of the reserved pork cooking liquid into the pan, scraping the bottom as you do so to dislodge any bits stuck there.
8 Add the meat and simmer gently
Return all the chopped meat to the pan, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn down the heat to low and simmer gently until the meat is tender and the sauce reduced – how long this takes will depend on the cut(s) of meat you use and how soft you like it, but I give it 90 minutes. Chef Vivek Singh explains that the drier the end result, the better it will keep, but more sauce will feed more mouths, so it’s up to you.
9 Finishing touches
Season with salt, sugar and more vinegar to taste, then leave to cool. Refrigerate at least overnight, though many aficionados argue that sorpotel is at its best after three days. Slowly reheat, adding a splash of water if need be, then serve with plain boiled rice or sannas (Goan steamed rice cakes), if you can find them (or make your own – Nik Sharma has a good recipe on his website).
Fiona Beckett’s drink pairing This is a pretty fiery dish, so you may instinctively reach for a lager, but a hefty Portuguese or South African red will work, too: try the powerful Roodeberg Red 2021 (£11.50 Morrisons, 14%) or a pinotage.