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This bifana recipe is for a classic Portuguese sandwich that is universally loved. Thin slices of pork marinated in white wine, garlic, paprika and olive oil, just oozing in flavor. Served stuffed in toasted rolls with a smear of mustard and piri piri sauce, this delicious sandwich will have everyone begging for more.
What is Bifana?
Bifana is a traditional Portuguese sandwich consisting of Portuguese bread known as Papo Secos stuffed with marinated pork chops.
The secret of the bifana sandwich is the perfectly juicy pork in its signature marinade and the method of preparation.
Thinly sliced pork chops, garlic, olive oil, white wine and a few spices are all you need for this Portuguese sandwich that will awaken all your senses.
The Bifana sandwich is popular across Portugal and available at almost all cafes, local bars and eateries and even as a street food.
There are regional differences when it comes to bifana Portugal and every cook prepares it a little differently.
How much the bread is soaked in the seasoning makes a difference. Whether the bifana sandwich is served with mustard or an olive oil and white wine also influence the taste.
The bifana sandwich is beloved in Portugal and a source of national pride.
In 2012, Anthony Bourdain visited Lisbon and raved about the bifana sandwich.
At O Trevo restaurant in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, he described the sandwich as “Greasy pork – the greasier the better – low rent mustard, a touch of chili oil and a bun. Totally awesome.”
Bifana Porto Style
Bifana Porto style also known as bifanas a moda do porto is one of the most popular variations of the sandwich.
This version is from the northern part of the country. Bifana Porto is popular for its distinctive sauce.
The pork cutlets are cooked after being marinated in beer, Port wine, garlic and the indispensable Portuguese piri-piri (peri-peri) sauce.
The bifana sandwich is so popular that Mc Donald’s in Portugal makes an equivalent version called the McBifana.
The McBifana sandwich which has been around since 2012 is made with two pork burger patties in a water bun.
Most recently, the McBifana has been updated using only Portuguese products. The bread rolls and meat are sourced locally and the sandwich comes in two versions.
There is the original version which comes with garlic, bay leaves, olive oil and paprika. And the second version comes with mustard sauce.
Even though McBifana at McDonald’s comes with drinks and side dishes the cost is more than double the actual bifana cost.
While we recommend the traditional and authentic Portuguese bifana sandwich, tasting McDonald’s version can be an experience.
Origins and History of Bifana Sandwich
The exact origin of the traditional recipe for Bifana is not known.
However, it is likely the sandwich first appeared at a time when red pepper, an important Portuguese ingredient, was first discovered.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers introduced Portugal and the world to red peppers. They became an indispensable part of Portuguese cuisine and very likely the bifana was one of the dishes.
Unofficially, the first recipe for Bifana appeared in the town of Vendas Novas in the Alentejo region of Portugal.
One of the hallmarks in Alentejo cuisine is the use of red pepper in addition to paprika, garlic and bay leaves.
And these are also the same necessary ingredients to make a good bifana sandwich.
Discovering Bifana in Portugal
The Alentejo region in Portugal is considered the breadbasket of the country. The area is celebrated for gastronomic products like olive oil, cheese, wine, bread, Alentejo or Portuguese pork and more.
For food lovers, a visit to the gastronomic heartland cannot be missed. As such, when we visited Portugal to explore the local and authentic food, we visited Evora, the capital city of Alentejo.
While in Evora, locals on several occasions pointed us to Bifanas de Vendas Novas restaurant to try the famous Portuguese sandwich.
We went for lunch one afternoon and were surprised to find the no-frills restaurant busy with mostly students.
After finding a table we ordered two different Portuguese sandwiches. Claire ordered the bifana sandwich with “everything” with cheese, egg, lettuce, tomato and bacon.
While I had the sandwich with pork, bacon and egg. We both loved the bifana sandwiches which were delicious and perfectly seasoned.
The bread was lightly toasted and the pork succulent and juicy. With each bite, the bifana sandwiches quickly moved up the scale to become among our favorite sandwiches.
Our goal with this traditional bifana recipe is for you to experience the scrumptious bifana at home. Perhaps, you too will also discover a new favorite sandwich.
Bifana Recipe – How To Make Bifana at Home
For some easy Portuguese home cooking, enjoy this delicious bifana sandwich from the comfort of home.
All you need are just a few ingredients for the marinade and some pork slices.
The ingredients below are enough for one large or two smaller bifana sandwiches. If you want to cook more portions, simply multiply the ingredients.
For The Bifana Marinade
- Crushed garlic
- White wine, a small glass
- Olive oil
- Smoked paprika
- Red chilli flakes
- Bay leaves
- White wine vinegar
- Black pepper to taste
For The Meat
- Pork cutlets, skinless and thinly sliced
- Olive oil
For The Bread
Bifana Recipe Tips
Pork Meat for Bifana Sandwich
To enjoy a juicy and delicious bifana sandwich, the choice of meat is very important.
Choose thin pork cutlets without fat or bones.
In Portugal, you can actually find pork cutlets that are specifically cut for the bifana sandwich.
Outside of Portugal, cut your pork slices thin a little over 1 inch per cutlet or 3 cm thick.
If necessary, you can also use a meat tenderizer or rolling pin to flatten your pork slices further.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you are looking for exceptionally juicy pork from pasture-raised heritage pigs, consider Snake River Farms. This family owned farm is one of the top providers of michelin-stared restaurants and select retailers. You can order your pork and other meat products and have them delivered to your home.
Bifana Bread Substitute
Papo secos are light and airy Portuguese rolls traditionally used in the bifana sandwich. They have a crispy crust and the inside is soft and slightly spongy making them ideal for soaking up sauces.
If you don’t have access to a Portuguese bakery in your area, try your local bakery. Look for simple buns that are crusty on the outside and soft inside.
Try European style rolls or Kaiser rolls as substitutes for papo secos. Alternatively, you can also order Portuguese rolls on Amazon.
Sauce For Bifana
In Portugal, everyone eats their bifana sandwich in their own preferred style. Some top the sandwich with a little sauce, while others don’t. It’s all a matter of preference.
We personally prefer the bifana topped up with mustard and a little piri-piri sauce for an extra bite.
A strong Dijon mustard is our favorite followed by a squeeze of piri-piri sauce for added heat.
What To Drink With A Bifana Sandwich
In Portugal, the bifana is usually paired with a local cold beer. In the north, the beer of choice is the Portuguese Super Bock and Sagres beer in the South.
You can also enjoy your bifana sandwich with Vinho Verde, the bright and light Portuguese white wine.
What To Serve With A Bifana Sandwich
On its own the bifana sandwich makes for a delicious snack. If you want to make it more of a complete meal, you can add a few sides.
To start, you could have soup before eating your sandwich. This is actually how we had it in Portugal.
Alternatively, you could accompany your bifana sandwich with a salad, homemade fries or oven roasted potatoes.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: How To Make Caldo Verde – A Comforting Portuguese Kale Soup
How To Reheat
You can keep the pork and reserved marinade overnight for up to 3 to 5 days. The marinade gets better overtime.
Reheat in a pan the next day for a freshly made sandwich.
Bifana Step by Step Instructions
Starting with the bay leaves, mix all the ingredients together to prepare the marinade. Make sure the thin pork slices are removed from the fridge ahead of time.
Marinate and Cook The Pork
Soak the pork in the marinade and place the marinated pork cutlets in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Later, cook the pork slices in olive oil until cooked through.
For The Bifana Marinade
For The Meat
- 17.6 oz pork loin skinless, sliced into 3cm thin strips
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
- In a deep bowl, add the crushed bay leaves, crushed garlic, olive oil, red pepper and chilli flakes. Mix everything and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the thin pork loin slices to the marinade and then pour the vinegar. Cover the meat in the marinade with cling film or saran wrap and leave in the fridge for 4 hours.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once heated gently place the marinated pork chops in the pan and let them cook. Occasionally turn the chops over to cook evenly on both sides.
- When the meat turns brown and gets the perfect copper color then your pork is ready.
- Cut the Portuguese rolls in half and toast them slightly making sure they are still soft on the inside.
- Add some sauce from the pan over each half of the bread roll. Then add the juicy pork cutlet slices.
- While it’s optional to serve with Dijon mustard and piri piri sauce, we highly recommend adding them for elevated flavors.
- You can marinate the pork overnight for even more intense flavors.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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