Saturday, February 15, 2014

Alcatra, Portuguese Meat Braise



Serves 8


Alcatra is a meat braise popular in the Azorean Island of Terceira in Portugal. Alcatra is traditionally prepared during the Holy Ghost Festivals. Every year, the Azoreans, especially the Terceirans, celebrate the Holy Ghost Festival which begins Easter Sunday and runs for eight weeks until Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. 


Not being from, or having ever visited the Azores, and I don't celebrate Holy Ghost Festival, I am bravely publishing my own recipe which I have developed over time. I may be taking some liberties, but love this dish and want to share. Forgive me Portuguese people, forgive me Terceira.  


I use a black clay pot called a Chamba to braise the meat in my wood burning oven. A Dutch oven, or heavy pot and a conventional oven will do the trick.


1 750 ml. bottle of wine, either a Verdelho White Wine or a Dry Red Wine such as a Zinfandel

2 heads garlic, peeled

2 large sprigs thyme

2 strips orange zest

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon allspice berries, coarsely crushed

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

3 star anis

4 to 5 pounds cubed chuck

2 beef shank cubed with bone (or, forgive me, I use meaty short ribs, 5 pounds of them)

Kosher salt

1 pound smoked bacon, cut into lardons

4 white onions cut into rings

3 small carrots, sliced

4 figs, sliced in half

3 pimenta red peppers, sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

2 Tablespoons red-wine vinegar, more to taste

Beef or roasted vegetable stock if needed.


·        Combine the wine, two cloves of garlic that have been smashed, thyme, orange zest, bay, allspice, peppercorns, cloves and anise in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

·        Trim away any excess fat from the meat, remove silverskin or tough- looking tissue. Put the meat into a container wide enough to fit them in a single layer. Season with salt. pour the cooled marinade of the meat, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Turn the ribs once or twice.

·        After marinating and before moving to the next step, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade but do not chill.

·        Preheat oven to 425 F. or build a fire in your wood burning oven… sorry, I had to mention that.

·        In a heavy pot, or the Dutch oven you are going to use to braise the meat, cook the bacon just until a bit of fat has been rendered. Remove the lightly cooked bacon from the pan.

·        Sear the meat in small batches in the hot bacon fat, turning until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer to a platter.

·        Add to the same pan the onions and carrots. Sauté just until they vegetables softened a bit.

·        Add the tomato paste to the pot. Deglaze with  the red wine vinegar and a bit of the wine marinade.

·        To that pot, or into a Chamba (if you're so lucky to have one, see below for notes about Chamba or clay pot use) add the remaining peeled garlic, half of the bacon, the figs, red peppers, and then the meat and top with the rest of the bacon. Strain the wine marinade over the meat, removing spices and herbs. You may add some fresh bay to the pot if desired.

·        If the meat is not covered, add a bit of stock. The meat does not need to be submerged, just covered.

·        Cover the pot with foil and then the lid.

·        Place in the hot oven and braise for at least 4 hours. Check occasionally and add more wine if needed.

·        Remove from the oven, skim off any fat floating on the top of the pot.

·        Serve with sweet bread, traditionally Portuguese Massa Sovada,  but any enriched, sweetened bread typically found around Easter time may be substituted.  

Alcatra in La Chamba

La Chamba


Chamba cookware can be traced back at least 700 years. It is still made in the traditional manner by families in the village of La Chamba, on the banks of the Magdalena River in Central Colombia. Each piece is hand-crafted using local clays, burnished by hand and fired on-site. The process and natural materials give the dishes a distinctive and elegant look. More importantly, Chamba is strong enough to use on the stovetop, oven or microwave. Chamba cookware heats evenly and retains heat making it simple to remove from the oven and place on the table.


·        Chamba cookware must be seasoned before the first use. The traditional method is to rub the outside with a ripe plantain, wiping off any pieces of plantain and then bringing slowly to a simmer  gallon of milk in the Chamba.

·        Cleaning should not be aggressive, wipe out with a soft, wet cloth or sponge. It should not go into the dishwasher or scrubbed with steal wool.

·        Before braising in the oven, I coat the inside of the Chamba with lard or clean, filtered, beef fat.

·        There are no toxins used in the production of La Chamba dishes. The pieces are not glazed. They are lead-free. The black color comes from the firing process and the smooth finish of the pieces is the result of hand-burnishing with stones.

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