A Portuguese Family History in a Bottle
Story and photo by Katie Rose Yen
Food is always at the heart of any family holiday gathering, and more often than not certain dishes are there, prepared again and again, preserving longstanding traditions. For Portuguese American Burt Amaral, it’s his grandmother’s carne de vinha d’alhos that holds the most sacred place among holiday dishes, and he has bottled the key ingredient of that dish in order to share the memory.
Also known as vina dosh (pronounced “vinya dazh”), vinha d’alhos is a marinade that was originally devised to preserve precious and scarce carne (meat) in the warm Mediterranean climate of Portugal. Usually translated as “wine and garlic,” it is a mixture of wine (usually white, but sometimes red wine is used when marinating dark meat) and vinegar (sometimes wine vinegar) steeped with many cloves of garlic, red peppers, and a blend of spices that varies based on both regional and personal tastes. This tangy sauce is most often used to prepare pork shoulder butt, but it’s also used with lamb, goat, beef, and sometimes fish. The meat is soaked for two full days to allow the full spectrum of spices to come alive, although some families claim that a mere 12-hour dip will yield meat that is just as delicious. While not everyone agrees on the exact formula, few would argue that the dish’s simple preparation is enough to convert even the most kitchen-phobic individual into a proud cook.
Before setting out to re-create this classic Portuguese marinade, Burt worked for decades at his family’s now closed linguiça company, Amaral & Sons. Located on Fremont Avenue in San Leandro, the shop opened in 1948, but it had its predecessor in a cart that Burt’s grandfather Raleigh and great-uncle Frank started operating in San Leandro in 1914 as a mobile store for their linguiça. The family’s famous sausage recipe was passed down through the generations, always tweaked a bit to suit the personal tastes of the cook in charge. Most of those revisions were not written down, but rather they were bequeathed via “taste memory.”
Burt is stirring the pot himself now, rewriting the family story by making vinha d’alhos a year-round pleasure, rather than saving the tradition for holidays.
When asked his favorite way to cook the marinade-saturated meat, Burt replies, “Well, you can bake it, broil it, barbecue it . . .” ending half-jokingly, “as for me, I barbecue it, but I don’t cook.” Following another pause, he adds, “And you don’t have to be Portuguese to enjoy it!” •
At her blog, www.FeedMeFremont.blogspot.com, Fremont writer Katie Rose Yen chronicles the passion of local food producers and purveyors.