Bife à Poruguêsa or Portuguese Steak is one of my favourite recipes from the Time Life Foods of the World Series - Cooking of Spain and Portugal. I’ve made it so many times over the years that the recipe booklet is speckled with red wine and other of the savory ingredients. I usually use rib eye instead of the beef tenderloin steaks suggested and, when presunto (Portuguese ham) or prosciutto were difficult to find, I used thin slices of back bacon. It’s a simple dish to prepare and a heavenly one to eat. My favourite sides are baby spinach wilted in a little olive oil and garlic, and roasted rosemary new potatoes. (Edit Mar 7, 2009: the photo at the top is beef tenderloin topped with pancetta and served with thyme roasted sweet potato coins)
Choosing this recipe was easy. The book just fell open to the page. I wanted to find a passage in the accompanying photo-intensive travelogue that would really paint the scene that stars the steak. Instead, I decided to go with this flowery introduction to Portugal.
“In the south western corner of Europe lies a slender patch of land...isolated from the rest of the continent by Spain, and isolated from Spain by jagged mountains. Stroked onto the sea like the afterthought of a wine-happy painter who returned to his canvas with the conviction that something was missing. Portugal stands alone; it is related to Spain but separate from it – and totally exposed to the harshest winds and waves of the Atlantic Ocean, which stretches westward like a desert of water as far as the setting sun….Brave curiosity, flagrant nostalgia, a kind of innocence, …are found today in Portugal in bold focus…nowhere are its unique qualities and achievements so clearly illustrated as in all things related to its food and cooking.”
Bife à Poruguêsa
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 6-10 minutes
4 large peeled garlic cloves, 2 crushed, 2 cut lengthwise in half
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 beef tenderloin steaks, ¾ “ inch thick (rib eye is another good choice)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large bay leaf, crumbled
4-6 thin slices presunto ham, prosciutto or other smoked ham ( thinly sliced back bacon or pancetta are other options)
¼ cup red wine
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges
1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
2. Mash the crushed garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper to a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back of a spoon. With your fingers, rub the paste into the steaks, pressing firmly into both sides of the meat.
3. In a heavy 10-12 inch skillet (preferably not non-stick), melt the butter in olive oil over moderate heat. When the foam has almost subsided, add the garlic halves and bay leaf and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove and discard the garlic and bay leaf. Add the steaks and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, turning with tongs and regulating the heat to they color quickly and evenly. The steaks should be well-browned, but still pink inside.
4. Transfer the steaks to individual baking dishes or fairly deep plates and keep them warm in the oven. Add the slices of ham to the fat remaining in the skillet and cook over high heat, turning them frequently for 1-2 minutes.
5. With the tongs, place 2 slices of ham on each steak. Pour off all but a thin film of fat from the skillet, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile scrape in any brown particles clinging to the bottom and sides of the pan.
6. Pour the sauce over the steaks, sprinkle with parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve at once surrounded by roasted potatoes.