Chef Finbar’s garlic pork is a well-kept secret among pork purists on the western side of island.
His garlic pork slices disappear from his home faster than the hops and sliced breads with which they are paired. In fact the 200lbs of pork he has already prepared for Christmas are already accounted for, prompting him to source another 100lbs just to try and appease his growing clientele.
“I’m about to buy another 100lbs of belly pork which would make it a record for me of 300lbs of garlic pork this year; that is mad,” the affable chef said with an incredulous laugh when he spoke to Kitcharee on Friday.
Born Barry Finbar Bartholomew the experienced chef worked for over a decade in the kitchen of three prominent restaurants in New York City, USA. He returned to T&T in 2014 and started the Cocopine line of pepper and other fruit-infused sauces.
Secret to a good garlic pork
So what’s the secret to his recipe? What makes his garlic pork stand out from the rest? The chef says the answer is wrapped in age old tradition.
“The Pinheiro family were very close friends of us growing up. Garlic pork was their big Christmas tradition. Every year we would drop in to visit Phyllis and Albert prepping the pork and eagerly awaiting them to pass by our home with the finished product. It was heaven,” he recalled.
Over the years Chef Finbar has adapted the Pinheiro recipe to suit a modern, more sophisticated palate. The key in his version, he says, is finding the sweet spot of complete flavour balance.
“For me the key is balance of flavour. I want to taste all the ingredients; I don’t want to taste garlic and vinegar only, I want to taste the thyme, the pepper, the salt. Very often we get way too much vinegar flavour in garlic pork,” he said.
“The cut of meat is also so important. I personally prefer belly pork and shoulder. I just find it gets a nicer balance of meat-to-fat ratio. Some people like leg because it’s leaner so it all comes down to preference.”
Most importantly, he says he has adopted the Pinheiro’s steaming process. Well-steamed pork cooks faster, he revealed. And when topped with his secret crumbed combination of fried pork bits, thyme, pepper and garlic, it makes for a pure pork paradise.
“After the pork has been marinating for four to five days it’s steamed in a big pot. That makes it more tender so Christmas day it’s a faster process to fry it. I don’t like the pork undercooked. It has to be tender. I like it well fried till it gets a nice, crisp crust on both sides. I don’t like pork that taste steamed,” he said.
A seasonal tradition
Chef Finbar says traditionally, garlic pork is only prepared and eaten during Christmas time in Portuguese households. Finbar is first to admit he is not a purist and practically enjoys his garlic pork throughout the year, albeit on special occasions.
“I was talking to my good friend Rosemary (Pinheiro-Perkins) and she says it should definitely not be eaten out of season. She, like the rest of her family, believes in tradition and so garlic pork should only be served at Christmas time. That’s how it is in Portugal and now Trinidad. For them the smell of garlic pork is what Christmas is all about.
“I’m a little split on that. I do store some of my pork in vacuum packs so I have the liberty of pulling out a pack anytime I want. But I really find myself doing that only when it’s a special time of year,” he concluded with a wink.
Follow Chef Finbar across all social media platforms for more recipes, kitchen pro-tips and cooking advice. Who knows maybe you will find your way on the guest list to his next tasting.