The “Alcatra” from Terceira Island is one of the most renowned dishes of the Azores archipelago. Its origin is related to the arrival of the first settlers to the island, especially those who came from the region of Trás-os-Montes. In this region, there was, and still is, a similar dish, called “Chanfana”. Alcatra’s confection was inspired by this dish.
In times past, the alcatra was considered the best part of the animal, so it was only possible to find this type of dish among the landlords. The farmers only kept the other parts of the animal, the parts considered less good. However, the dish made by the farmers with the parts of the animal that had bones became very well known and much tastier than it became the main recipe of the famous “Alcatra” in the Terceira island style.
“Alcatra” is a typical dish of roasted beef in a clay bowl. It is the best-known dish on the island and is an indispensable experience for all those who visit us. It marks the festive seasons, such as Easter Sunday and the Feasts of the Holy Spirit, where it accompanies other traditional delicacies from the Azores: massa sovada, soups of the holy spirit, sweet rice and regional wine.
The dish is cooked slowly in a clay pot (alguidar). This element is essential in the process of obtaining the thickness of the meat sauce. The sauce is composed of bacon, onion, garlic, bay leaf, pepper, wine and other ingredients that give shape to the authentic flavour of this unique gastronomic attraction. It is usually served with pasta, bread and a bottle of good regional wine.
The “alguidar” is a very common element in the Portuguese cuisine, even more, elementary in the cuisine of the Azores region. Working with clay was, and still is – although in a much smaller quantity – one of the most important cultures in the Azores. The existence of clays made it easier to obtain clay and this gave rise to many pieces of everyday use, such as the “alguidar” and the “sertã”. The clay pieces, after finishing their making and moulding process, are baked. After being cooked, they are washed in a specific way so that they don’t give any smell or condition the food made in these pieces.
Alcatra is the dish that still promotes the production of clay bowls in Terceira island since the production of clay pieces in the Azores went into decay from the beginning of the 20th century.
How to prepare “Alcatra” from Terceira Island
The meat is cut into medium-sized pieces, as is garlic. The lard is cut into thin slices and the onions are half-moon-shaped.
The meat is rubbed in salt and then placed in a recipient with white wine, seasoned with black pepper and clove. Then the bowl should be greased in lard and the bottom covered with garlic and onion.
The meat is placed in the bowl at the same time as the onion, garlic, bay leaf and bacon – all this in alternation. The bowl should be covered and placed in the oven. It should be boiled slowly and over moderate heat. When the meat is toasted on top of it, the bowl should be removed from the oven in order to turn the meat inside out.
Once this process is complete, it is placed back in the oven.
Once both parts are toasted and the sauce is already dark, remove it from the oven and it is ready to serve. Excellent accompaniment will be the bread, the batter and a bottle of good regional wine.