Bifana is a traditional Portuguese sandwich. It is prepared with papo seco (a Portuguese bread roll) and very thin marinated pork cutlets, on which the cooking juices are drizzled… A simple and delicious snack!
People often eat them after a trip to the farmer’s market at the counter of a tasca (a type of small “restaurant” where you can have a drink and eat a snack on the go). Very similar to Venetian bàcari or a Spanish bodega). Let’s have some fun with this tasty snack, that is not very expensive and is so delicious!
You can find bifana sandwiches all over Portugal but they are never exactly the same because like any iconic recipe, everyone has its own version. In any case, there’s no reason to fight over which one is the original, as the important thing is to savor them!
The basic recipe of bifana could not be simpler, but that’s exactly where its unique taste comes from. The traditional Portuguese marinade is prepared with dry white wine, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika and garlic. Actually, many meats are marinated in this mixture in Portugal and this marinate definitely gives a taste that is particular to Portuguese recipes.
As for paprika or red pepper (páprica or colorau in Portuguese), it is widely used in Portuguese gastronomy and its taste can vary: smoked, sweet, spicy. Also, the nuances of its taste differ according to the variety of peppers that are used, but also if just the flesh is ground, or the seeds, the skin, etc. It was discovered in the fifteenth century by Spanish explorers, and it is native to South America. In the sixteenth century, it started to be used in European cuisines, especially in Spain and Portugal where it was easy to start growing it. If the plant itself is native to South America, the name would come from the Serbian word paprena meaning “the one that is hot”.
Bay leaves are also a very popular condiment of Portuguese cuisine and are widely used in marinades, soups and stews. And of course, garlic is also an iconic ingredient in all Mediterranean cuisines. As for pork, it is a meat that is much appreciated in Portugal, and in fact it is the most consumed. It is also the star of one of the country’s flagship recipes: pork and clams à Alentejana (carne de porco à alentejana) as well as in many specialties of charcuterie. Actually, the black pigs of the Alentejo region, “porco de raça Alentejo”, and Mealhada’s suckling pig meat are very popular. Finally, pork fat (or lard) is also a staple of Portuguese gastronomy. It is used in savory as well as sweet dishes.
This little sandwich is a nice representation of Portuguese taste because of the specificity of the ingredients. Also, the Portuguese seem to have a certain taste for sandwiches. There are quite a few other traditional sandwich recipes available in Portugal, such as prego (with beef, mustard or hot sauce), leitao (with suckling pig meat) and of course, there is also the Francesinha (“little French girl”), typical of Porto. The latter is a feast on its own with linguiça (pork sausage with paprika and garlic), fresh sausage, ham, beef or pork. Cheese is melted on it, and a sauce accompanies the sandwich (tomato, pepper, beer). An egg is often added.
But for now, let’s have fun with this bifana that is ultra tasty. And… don’t you dare adding anything to it. You will see, it is just good as it is!
- 4 sandwich bread rolls (Portuguese papo seco)
- 1½ pork cutlets , sliced very thin
- 5 cloves garlic , chopped
- 2 oz. lard
- ½ cup white wine
- 3 bay leaves
- Juice of a lemon
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Pepper , freshly ground
- In a container, place a layer of cutlets and season with salt, pepper, bay leaf, paprika, lemon juice and garlic.
- If necessary, make several layers with all the cutlets, seasoning them the same way at each layer.
- Finally, pour the white wine over the cutlets and marinate for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
- In a large frying pan, hear the lard over medium heat.
- Drain the cutlets and reserve the marinade. Fry them in lard over high heat, turning them constantly.
- Once the cutlets are fried, add the reserved marinade and cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated by half.
- Toast the bread loaves.
- Fill each bread with cutlets and drizzle with the remaining sauce.