After starting off the week with Filozes – Portuguese Donuts I made for #SundaySupper, I couldn’t help but start to crave some of my other Portuguese faves….like Alcatra.
Alcatra is a pot roast that’s traditionally cooked in large clay pots that resemble those that you might find in your garden. I’m fresh out of a clay pot like that, so I pulled out my trusty slow cooker. The roast cooks for many hours (8 in my case) and is so incredibly tender that it’s almost like butter. The spices and wine are what make this dish full of flavor and goodness. Oh and bacon. Everything is better with Bacon.
In my lifetime, I have eaten this dish many a time. Most often at the Portuguese Festa, or Holy Ghost Festival as some call it. The story goes like this:
The original Holy Ghost Feast was held during the reign of Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal, who lived from 1271 to 1336. She was known as a peacemaker and as “The Holy Queen” who was devoted to the Holy Spirit. She built a church dedicated to the name of the Holy Spirit in Lisbon and often demonstrated her devotion to her people and their well-being. There are many stories of the Queen’s piety and service, but the dearest to the Portuguese people of the Azores is the one explaining their devotion to Queen Elizabeth and the Holy Ghost. In the 13th century, the Azores Islands suffered from many violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The most seriously hit was the Island of Pico. The people of these Azores Islands could not survive the drought, crop failures, and famine that now plagued them. They gathered together in prayer to the Holy Ghost for help. On the morning of Pentecost Sunday, there was a great rising sun, and the people of these islands saw in the sunrise a ship coming into the Port of Fayal. This ship was laden with necessities of life. The food was distributed among the people of the various islands, and they were very grateful that their prayers had been answered. When their Queen heard of this providence, she organized a solemn procession in honor of the Holy Ghost. Accompanied by her maids she carried her Crown through the streets of Lisbon to the cathedral, where she left it on the altar as an offering of thanksgiving for the favors the Holy Ghost had given her people. In addition, she began a tradition of feeding the poor at Pentecost. Each year she chose twelve people to whom she gave a new suit of clothing and personally served them a meal at her table. The people of the Azores vowed that they and their children and their children’s children would commemorate the day by giving thanks to their Queen for the sacrifice she made. Since then, many Portuguese churches have displayed replicas of her eight-sided crown in remembrance of her goodness and God’s grace. Later, in the 16th century, the church canonized this holy queen in recognition of the miracles that were attributed to her pious life.
My Grandmother is currently the oldest living Queen for her area of California and walks the parade each year. Both my daughter and I have walked with her in parades past as young girls. It’s a pretty great tradition….and at the end of the parade route are long tables loaded with Alcatra, Sopas (cabbage and french bread soup) and lots of Portuguese Sweet Bread.
Should we go bust out some Alcatra now? I’m hungry just typing!
An easy recipe for Portuguese Pot Roast cooked in the slow cooker.
- 1/2 lb bacon, cut into small pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 5 whole cloves
- 16 peppercorns
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 5 pound chuck roast, or rump roast
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 cups water
- In a large stock pot, fry bacon until just crisp over medium-high heat. Remove to a papertowel lined plate and allow to drain. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat and add the onion, bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, garlic and tomato paste. Cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the onion mixture to the slow cooker.
- In a small bowl mix the salt and pepper and spread over the chuck roast evenly. Sear the roast on each side in the hot stock pot. When all sides have a been browned, place the roast on top of the onion mixture in the slow cooker.
- Turn the heat up to high and add the wine and water and scrape up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the stock pot. Allow the wine mixture to boil for 5 minutes. Pour over the roast and top with the bacon. Add more water, if necessary, to just cover the roast. Cover and set the slow cooker for 8 hours (or follow your manufacturers suggestions for 8 hours). At the 4 hour mark, flip the roast over, cover and continue to cook.
Serving suggestions - Serve with bread (portuguese sweet bread) to soak up the juices. Would also be great served over warm polenta, rice or quinoa.