Terceira is one of the nine Islands of the Azores, Portugal. It’s the Island with the second largest population of the Azores. This Island is beautiful, has wonderful people and amazing food… definitely worth a visit.
Growing up, and even today, if someone asked me “What’s the one dish that defines Terceira?”, I would have to say “Alcatra”. Now, this dish is also made on the other islands and even outside the Azores, but I think it’s safe to say that the Terceira locals introduced this wonderful meal and will remain THE place to have the most authentic version of Alcatra.
The recipe I prepared today is likely not from the original recipe, but I’m pretty sure it’s close to the authentic version of this dish. The recipe is in my “book of traditions” hand-written by my mom. It was passed on to her by her cousin Otilia, who got it from a great cook in Terceira. I hope I’ve done it justice.
There’s a very important factor when cooking this dish. The Terceira locals cook it in a clay pot, typically made on the Island using old techniques. Apparently, the more you cook with this pot, the better your next meals come out… I’ll have to test this theory over and over to make sure they’re right ;-). I told some friends in the Azores that I was going to make Alcatra, and the first question was “do you have the clay pot?” and the next question was “where was it made?”. As you can see, these clay pots and this dish are quite popular around the islands–and they take the traditional cooking method seriously.
Fortunately I do have one of these clay pots. It was an interesting series of events that allowed me to have one of these Terceira-made clay pots in Canada. A few years ago, just before my parents were about to visit us, I mentioned to my mom that I might be interested in trying to cook Alcatra and that it would be nice to have the authentic clay pot. They were about to leave a few days later, so it was unlikely they could get me one before leaving… but the stars aligned! My mom mentioned my request to her cousin Maria José, next door. Maria José, in turn, called a cousin of hers, Dr. Teresa, in Terceira. She immediately and very generously visited one of the local markets and purchased one. She then drove down to the city port (Angra) where she knew one of the inter-island ferries was about to depart to Pico Island (where my parents are), and one of the crew members happened to be from our town. He agreed to get it to my parents. How cool is that?!?!?! What a great bunch of people! Just one day after I mentioned this to my mom, she was already packing it in a suitcase for the trip to Canada. I’m guessing that most people reading this post will likely not own one of these pots or have easy access to buying one. But don’t let that stop you from making this dish. I think you can also get great results with a quality cast iron french or dutch oven.
This is a slow cooked meal and the amazing smell in the house makes people gravitate towards the kitchen. I think the neighbours around us were ready to visit. The meat becomes incredibly tender, the sauce is rich and flavour is amazing! You will need to have crusty bread on hand. This meal is not for the faint of heart. As you can see from the ingredient list, you might not want to make this a daily ritual 🙂
Like many things in life, we tend to appreciate things more when we slow down. Cook something slowly, share it with loved ones… and eat well friends!
- 3½ lbs blade (you can also use chuck roast or outside round), cut in large pieces
- 1 large veal shank (with the marrow, no meat needed)
- 5.3 oz pancetta (toucinho) or thick cut bacon (roughly 150 g), chopped
- 1 whole garlic head, with all cloves attached and outer white skin removed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 tbs pig fat
- 1 tbs unsalted butter
- 1 tbs whole allspice
- 1½ cups red wine
- ¾ cups water
- 1 tsp course salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 ºF (170 ºC).
- Cut the top off the garlic head to show all the garlic cloves.
- Place the garlic head on the bottom of the pot in the centre.
- Place the chopped pancetta on the bottom all around the garlic head.
- Add one layer of pieces of meat on top of the garlic and pancetta, along with the beef shank.
- Add half the diced onion evenly over the layer of meat.
- Sprinkle half the allspice evenly over the onion.
- Repeat the last three steps - layer of meat, remaining onions and remaining allspice.
- add little pieces of the butter and pig fat over the meat.
- Pour the water over the meat.
- Pour the red wine over the meat.
- Sprinkle the course salt evenly over the meat.
- Cover the pot with aluminum foil (or lid if using a dutch oven)
- Place the pot in the oven for 2 hours, 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and let cook for another 30 minutes.
- Serve this dish with potatoes or rice.
- Caution: Your neighbours will be knocking on your door when they smell this! :-)