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Exploring the Culinary Delights of Portugal’s Madeira Island

Exploring the Culinary Delights of Portugal’s Madeira Island: A Traditional Espetada Recipe

Exploring the Culinary Delights of Portugal's Madeira Island

When it comes to exploring the culinary delights of Portugal, Madeira Island stands out as a true gem. This picturesque island, located in the Atlantic Ocean, is not only known for its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture but also for its mouthwatering cuisine. One dish that truly captures the essence of Madeira’s gastronomy is the traditional Espetada. In this article, we will delve into the history and ingredients of this delectable dish, as well as provide a step-by-step guide on how to make it yourself.

The History of Espetada

Espetada is a traditional Portuguese dish that originated in Madeira Island. The word “espetada” itself means “skewered” in Portuguese, which perfectly describes the cooking method used for this dish. It is believed that Espetada was first introduced by the Moors during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Over time, the dish evolved and became an integral part of Madeiran cuisine.

Traditionally, Espetada was made using beef, specifically a cut called “carne de vinho e alhos,” which translates to “meat marinated in wine and garlic.” However, nowadays, you can find variations of Espetada made with other meats such as pork or chicken. The dish is typically cooked over an open fire, giving it a unique smoky flavor.


To make a traditional Espetada, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of beef (preferably a tender cut like rump or sirloin)
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Wooden skewers

Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that we have gathered all the necessary ingredients, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of making a delicious Espetada:

  1. Start by cutting the beef into cubes, approximately 1.5 inches in size. It is important to ensure that the cubes are uniform in size to ensure even cooking.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the red wine, minced garlic, coarse salt, black pepper, and bay leaf. Mix well to create a marinade.
  3. Add the beef cubes to the marinade, making sure they are fully coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. This will allow the flavors to penetrate the meat and make it tender.
  4. Once the meat has marinated, it’s time to assemble the Espetada. Take a wooden skewer and thread the beef cubes onto it, leaving a small gap between each cube. This will ensure that the meat cooks evenly.
  5. Preheat your grill or barbecue to medium-high heat. If you don’t have access to a grill, you can also cook the Espetada in the oven using a broiler setting.
  6. Place the skewers on the grill or under the broiler, making sure to rotate them occasionally to ensure even cooking. The Espetada should be cooked to your desired level of doneness, but it is typically served medium-rare to medium.
  7. Once the meat is cooked to perfection, remove the skewers from the heat and let them rest for a few minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute and make the meat even more tender.
  8. Serve the Espetada hot, accompanied by traditional Madeiran sides such as bolo do caco (a type of bread) and milho frito (fried cornmeal).

Interesting Facts about Espetada

Now that you know how to make a traditional Espetada, here are some interesting facts about this iconic Madeiran dish:

  • Espetada is often served with a traditional Madeiran sauce called “molho de vilão,” which is made from olive oil, garlic, and bay leaves.
  • The wooden skewers used for Espetada are typically made from bay laurel branches, which add a subtle aroma to the meat.
  • While beef is the most common meat used for Espetada, you can also find variations made with pork, chicken, or even fish.
  • Espetada is not only a delicious dish but also a social experience. It is often enjoyed in large groups, with friends and family gathering around the grill to savor the flavors together.


Exploring the culinary delights of Madeira Island is an adventure for the senses, and the traditional Espetada is a dish that truly embodies the island’s rich gastronomy. By following the step-by-step instructions provided in this article, you can recreate the flavors of Madeira in your own kitchen. Whether you choose to use beef, pork, or chicken, the smoky aroma and tender meat of Espetada are sure to transport you to the picturesque landscapes of Madeira. So gather your loved ones, fire up the grill, and indulge in the culinary delights of Portugal’s Madeira Island.



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