Recipe of the week: Pica pau (quick-fried beef with pickles)

20 December 2017 by
Recipe of the week: Pica pau (quick-fried beef with pickles)

Pica pau means ‘woodpecker', and you eat this dish with a cocktail stick, picking pieces up and gobbling them a bit like its namesake would. My version uses beef fillet; if you ask your butcher to give you the tail ends of the fillet it will be a lot cheaper, without compromising on flavour. I use Ibérico ham for its rich, sweet flavour. You could use other cured hams, but remember to check the salt content, since some types are saltier and less nutty than Ibérico. When I dream of this dish, which I often do, it always comes with an ice-cold draught beer.

Serves 4

For the pickled vegetables
600ml Japanese rice vinegar
600g caster sugar
50g fine sea salt
2 bay leaves
½tsp black peppercorns
1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
2 carrots, cut into 5mm slices
1 onion, cut into eighths

For the piri piri oil
5-7 fresh piri piri, malagueta or bird's eye chillies
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1tsp fine sea salt
300ml olive oil
10 dried piri piri or malagueta chillies
2tbs brandy or aguardente velha
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1tbs lemon juice
1tbs white wine vinegar
3 bay leaves
A few black peppercorns

For the pica pau
1tbs good-quality pork fat
1tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 small long red chilli, deseeded (optional) and halved lengthways
300g beef fillet, rump or sirloin, cut into bite-sized pieces
150g thick-cut cured ham, ideally Ibérico, Serrano or Parma ham, finely chopped
10 small gherkins, finely chopped
About 1tbs dry white wine, to taste
A small handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, to serve
Piri piri oil, to serve (see above)
Sea salt flakes and ground white pepper

To make the pickled vegetables, put the rice vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaves and peppercorns in a pan with 600ml water. Place over a medium heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring it to the boil, then add the cauliflower, carrots and onion.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool, along with the liquor. I like to make this the day before I use it. Stored in an airtight container, it should keep for two weeks in the fridge.

To make the piri piri oil, make a paste with the fresh chillies and sea salt using a pestle and mortar or a food processor. Heat the paste with 60ml of the oil in a small pan over a low heat. Add the remaining ingredients, except the remaining oil. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes, to burn off the alcohol and lightly caramelise the garlic and chillies. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rest of the oil.

To make the pica pau, take a handful of the pickles, cut them into small pieces and then set aside.

Melt the pork fat and olive oil over a high heat in a large frying pan. When the fat starts to sizzle, add the garlic, chilli and beef and season with salt and pepper. Fry quickly for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the ham, chopped pickles and gherkins, then add the white wine, starting with half a tablespoon and adding more to taste as required, along with a splash of pickle liquor if you like. Fry for another minute. Take the pan off the heat and stir through the parsley. Serve immediately, in the pan, with cocktail sticks. Lemon wedges and a drizzle of piri piri oil are nice additions.

Recipe taken from Lisboeta: Recipes from Portugal's City of Light

Photography by Andrew Montgomery

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