In 2003 my wife and I were invited by our friend Sherri to travel with her and her family to Sao Miguel, Azores-Portugal. We were to stay with her grandmother and aunts in the tiny village of Lomba de Sao Pedro. I jumped at the chance because my great grandmother was from the same island, and growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts you hear so much about the Azores. How could I not go?
Upon arrival, we were introduced to Sherri's grandmother Maria Elvira and her aunts and then directed to the cozy room we would be staying in. Once settled we made our way to the kitchen which was located at the center of the house. The whole family was there smiling and catching up and we were brought into the conversation. Many times our host inquired whether or not we were hungry or thirsty. At one point sensing our polite protestations Maria Elvira offered in Portuguese: "A casa pequena, mas o cora grande." They are all Portuguese words I knew but I had never heard the phrase before. It means "The house is small, but the heart is big." If this was a promise it was surely kept for I never had such a gracious and generous host. She prepared breakfast and dinner for us on most days, and often encouraged us to take cheese sandwiches with us on our daily trips around the island.
I have noticed that words used to describe bad food and cooking always come easy and are accurate. However, to try and craft words to describe great food is impossible. That is because great food transcends language. Such was the case with Maria Elvira‚Äôs cooking. It was great, all of it, and I tried to taste everything she had to offer and often that was quite a lot. Dinner was always a perception/reality kind of thing. You would perceive that you were going to eat Portuguese-style pork cutlets, however in reality, you were going to start with cutlets, then favas would come, then olives, bread, cheese, fish and anything else one of the aunts might walk in with! Pork, fish, beef, chicken, chourico, morcella, eggs, pudding, homemade ice cream. All of it sublime, all of it prepared by 70-something-year-old food magicians in a traditional Portuguese kitchen. We always left the table near bursting. I would walk outside and sit down and then the dessert offerings would come! It is a lucky thing for Portuguese men that they farm and do other active work, or else they would weigh 500lbs! Maria Elvira was not only generous with her food, when I asked how she made things, she was always generous with her recipes and her methods.
My time on Sao Miguel was filled with many fond memories of charming and generous people, great food and the island's beauty. In honor of Maria Elvira, I present my recipe for Azorean Style Pork Cutlets which is based on, but could never be nearly as good as the ones she served us the night before we left for the U.S. She also made sandwiches of the leftovers for our trip home.
Azorean-Style Pork Cutlets
1-1/2 to 2 lbs pork loin (cut into 1/4" cutlets)
2 cups white wine
4-6 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 tsp colorau (or regular paprika)
2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil
2 small bay leaves
1/2 cup shallots (chopped)
1 medium pimenta salgada (chopped)*
1/3 cup parsley chopped
In a large bowl, add the wine, garlic, colorau and bay leaves and mix together well. Add the pork cutlets and marinate 30 to 40 minutes.
Place a large, deep pan on medium-high meat. Add olive oil. When oil begins to smoke, brown the sides of each cutlet and set aside to keep warm.
Add the chopped shallots to the pan and simmer until they begin to brown lightly.
Increase the heat to high and immediately add the marinade to the pan to deglaze it.
Adjust heat until the mix is at a high simmer. Add 1/2 the pimenta salgada and a 1/3 of the chopped parsley.
Continue simmering the sauce until it is thick and rich. Remove the bay leaves.
Reintroduce the meat and coat it well in the sauce as it warms.
Remove from heat and let sit for about 5 minutes.
Plate with the gravy spooned over it and garnished with chopped parsley. Pair it with rice or potatoes or serve it in rolls as a sandwich. Offer the remaining pimenta salgada on the table so your guests can use it to season the cutlets to their own taste.
*If you cannot find pimenta salgada and do not want to make your own, use pickled red pepper instead and be sure to include salt to the recipe.