I always know when summer is officially in season in Portugal by the way the air smells. The distinct aroma of smoking charcoal, assorted carnes (meat) and peixes (fish) being grilled seems to float around just about everywhere you go. It’s the smell of grilled bifanas marinated with the fantastic, uniquely Portuguese red paste, massa de pimentão, that really makes one’s mouth water and taste buds yearn for a bite.
Massa de pimentão (pronounced “ mah-ssah de pea-meant-ow”) is a sweet yet salty pepper paste made from salt cured red bell peppers. It’s found throughout Portuguese cooking as a base for sauces and stews, as a marinade for meats or fish and is also used as a condiment. It gives a distinct flavor that just isn’t possible from paprika, chouriço or wine alone. If you’ve ever tried to make a Portuguese dish and something seemed to be missing, more than likely it was massa de pimentão. Luckily it’s easy enough to make in your own kitchen and is perfect for experimenting in a variety of savory dishes.
Bifanas (pronounced “beef-aw-nas”), grilled pork sandwiches, are a prime example of why massa de pimentão needs to be in every kitchen. Believed to have originated in the Alentejo, the bifana can now be found in every region of the country with their own spin on the original. Walk through any festa (festival), outdoor event or past a little café and this sandwich will be there. Bifanas are the Portuguese street food. Sure there are the sardinhas (sardines) on crusty bread in the summer and the roasted castanhas (chestnuts) in the winter, but bifanas are year round.
If you’re keen to learn more about the unknown and mouthwatering world of Portuguese sandwiches, check out our book on Northern Portuguese cuisine, which includes the Bifana and more!