The limestone patio at Pinóquio is packed as the sun sets, nearly every table eating the same meal—pica pau. This dish is the draw for the restaurant on Praça dos Restauradores in central Lisbon: chunks of lean beef seared in fat, drenched in garlic, washed down with cold beer.
It’s the rare example of a touristy place doing food right. I drizzle the savory chunks of meat—the name means woodpecker, a reference to the toothpicks with which it typically is eaten—with the traditional piri piri oil offered at every table and polish it off, sopping the juices with crusty bread.
To learn more, I head into the kitchen. Domingos Maceira loads a small pan with a heroic amount of lard, garlic, bay leaf and beef bouillon. In this, he sears large cubes of beef, adding butter and a splash of white wine before lowering the heat to simmer for 10 minutes. The pan goes straight to the table with just a sprinkle of cilantro, a lemon wedge and a glug of olive oil. Pickled vegetables also are a common addition.
At Milk Street, we loved the balance of wine-simmered beef and bracing piri piri sauce. And we felt the pickles were an important contrast, too. So we soaked onion and Kalamata olives in sherry vinegar while we seared strip steak. While the steak rested, we sautéed garlic and jalapeño with white wine and bay, reducing the liquid to concentrate the flavor. To lighten the dish, we skipped the lard, but retained its richness by stirring in butter off heat to finish.
We returned the meat to the pan to coat, adding parsley for freshness and serving it over the onion-olive mixture. And we highly recommend bread for sopping those juices.
Spicy, herbal piri piri oil is a staple condiment in Lisbon, where it’s drizzled over grilled meats, soupy rice with turnip greens and, of course, pica pau. Typically, sunflower oil is infused with a mix of piri piri chilies, bay leaf, rosemary or garlic and sometimes whiskey, vinegar or lemon. In our version, we replace hard-to-find piri piri chilies with more common árbol chilies, grinding some of them to get the right color and heat. If you can’t find árbols, substitute 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons sweet paprika.
To make, stem and break in half 1 cup árbol chilies. Pulse half of them in a spice grinder until coarse. In a saucepan over low, combine all the chilies, 2 cups sunflower oil, 4 medium garlic cloves (smashed and peeled), 8 bay leaves (broken) and 1 sprig rosemary. Heat until it reaches 275°F, 5 to 7 minutes. Off heat, stir in 2 teaspoons dried oregano, then cool and strain. Makes 2 cups. Keeps for 1 month.