This sauce is incredibly complex and absolutely delicious, with flavors leaning well into Spain and wandering just a bit into Portugal. Sherry vinegar, smoked paprika, cinnamon, olives, orange and almonds are significant players in both countries, tracing their roots back to the Moorish habitation of the peninsula for some 700 years. Make certain you have good bread to mop. You don’t want to miss a drop!This sauce is equally excellent with beef, chicken and pork, turning any on of those into a company-worthy dish. The Picada acts as a thickening paste, but also adds layers of lovely flavor. This mixture is commonly used in Spanish cuisine, but as far as I know, this isn’t used in the same manner, in Portuguese cuisine. I believe that in Portuguese, “picada” usually refers to meat on a skewer, or at the very least, diced. But, it matters not, as it’s just a damn fine addition. I like to use my mortar and pestle for this, as I like the “chunkier” style, but feel free to toss it all in the blender or food processor. It’s still going to be wonderful.
This is even better made the day before, so it’s a perfect mid-week dish or a company dish. I love it served with roasted potatoes, but The Latin Lover prefers rice. I’ve been feeding him a significant amount of potatoes recently, so to be fair, rice it will be.
To begin, season and brown that slab of beef. Remember, when we put the meat in the hot pan, we leave it alone, for at least 2-3 minutes per side. After we’ve browned it, remove it from the pan and set it aside, but don’t pitch out any rendered fat…you’ll want about 2 tablespoons.
Toss in the onions, peppers, bay leaf and sliced garlic. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the grated tomato and orange zest; stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Push the onions aside and drop the paprika, cumin and cinnamon into the well, gently stir it and allow it to toast a bit. Now, stir the spices into the onions, drizzle in the honey and pour in the wine. I use a mixture of vinho verde and cava, particularly when this is going to be a company dish. The cava adds a subtle apple flavor and balance, but any dry white wine will do nicely, too. Add the honey, pour in the part of the broth, scraping any browned bits (the fond) from the bottom of the pan. Push aside the onions and place the browned meat flat on the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat, partially cover and simmer gently for at least an hour or more. You want the meat to be easy to cut, but not mush. While all this loveliness is happening, about 10 minutes before the meat will be perfectly tender, make the picada.
In another skillet, sauté the almonds and bread cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil, until they brown slightly. A
s I mentioned earlier, I toss the sautéed almonds and bread, along with the garlic into my mortar and pestle. Deglaze the skillet with the vinegar; pour that into the mortar, along with the chopped cilantro (or parsley), thyme and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Use the pestle to “grind” everything into a very coarse paste. I do this just before I’m using it, as I think the cilantro has a better flavor.
Stir into the saucy, onion-y part of the dish. Let simmer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Add the olives, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Serve over rice or with roasted potatoes. Just a hint: I have, on occasion, added halved potatoes, that I’ve cut into slices, but not all the way through—hasselback potatoes. I let them cook in the onion/wine mixture…they are incredibly tasty…this is my personal preference. But, whatever you do, this is a truly delicious dish.
Iberian Peninsula Braising Sauce
- 2 1/2-3 pounds chuck roast, beef short ribs, chicken thighs or pork chops
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced top-to-bottom
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper strips (optional)
- 1 bay leaf (this lovely beauty came from Portugal, stowed in my luggage!)
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I use more)
- 2 plum tomatoes, grated, using only the inner pulp
- 3-4 strips orange (removed with a potato peeler or coarsely julienned)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- 1 cup dry white wine (vinho verde) or cava (see NOTE-you may need more)
- 2 teaspoons honey (this Portuguese honey, was stowed in my luggage, as well)
- 1-2 cups broth or water
- Pitted green olives (Manzanilla, Gordal or Arbequina are all wonderful)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
- 1 slice rustic white bread, cut into small cubes
- 2 garlic cloves, grated
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme or oregano leaves
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (I like to use just a bit more)
Season the meat liberally with salt & pepper (it’s best to bring the meat to room temperature before cooking). Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan, over medium heat. Add the olive oil and sear the meat on both sides. REMEMBER: Don’t move the meat around much. Leave it alone for at least 2-3 minutes per side. The meat will not be cooked through. Set the meat aside.
If there are a couple of tablespoons of the fat from the protein in the skillet, do not pitch it. Add some olive oil, if needed, so you have about 2 tablespoons in the skillet. Add the onions, peppers, bay leaf and garlic; sauté briefly, then add the grated tomatoes and strips of orange rind. Lower the heat; simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make a well in the center; add the smoked paprika, cinnamon and cumin; toast the spices briefly, about 30 seconds or until they became fragrant. Pour in the white wine, scraping up the brown bits (the fond) from the bottom of the skillet. Add the honey, 1 cup broth (water) and the seared beef. Cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat and cook until the meat is fully cooked. For the beef, it takes about an hour or until the meat just falls apart, but not so the meat will turn to mush. For chicken thighs and pork chops, about 25-30 minutes. You may need to add the additional broth; the mixture should not be swimming.
For the Picada: In another skillet, sauté the almonds and bread cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil, until they brown slightly. In a blender (or mortar and pestle), combine the sautéed almonds and bread, with the garlic. Deglaze the skillet with the vinegar; add to the blender container, along with the chopped parsley, thyme and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set aside.
During the last 10 minutes the meat cooks, add the picada. The sauce will begin to thicken slightly. Sprinkle the olives over the meat; cover and let stand for about 5 minutes. If using the beef chuck, cut into portions, which shouldn’t be need with the other proteins. Serve with roasted potatoes or rice. A glass of red wine would be a lovely and delicious way to celebrate this fine fusion of cultures!
NOTE: This is excellent made the day before, chilled and gently reheated before serving. You may remove the strips of orange rind. Usually I coarsely julienne the zest, so it just cooks right into the meat mixture. Cava is a sparkling, dry wine made from apples. I usually use half cava, half white wine.
Iberian Peninsula Braising Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2018. All rights reserved.
This is one of those culinary wonders—a dish whose flavors improves, as it sits, chilling like a villain, in the fridge. We had eaten most of the beef, so I very finely chopped up the remainder, stirred the bits into the sauce and reheated it gently. Then, I dropped some meatballs into it…YUM! That’s all I can tell you. This would make a great tapa, as that’s pretty much how we ate it…with a side of good bread, of course.