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Molha: Azorean Spiced Beef Stew

Molha: Azorean spiced beef stew

As adaptable as the English language is, it has not evolved to meet the needs of the modern world — specifically when it comes to modern relationships. It's only in the last three weeks that DPaul and I have finally been liberated from the highly unromantic moniker of "partners" for the mantle of "husbands," a word that still feels weird, like a pair of shoes that need breaking in. But what of the other people to whom we are connected through non-traditional means?

Case in point: We just had a dinner guest, Sylvia. She was my father's fourth and final wife, and now his widow. She's too young to be my stepmother, not that I called wives two or three by that title either. Plus, as I was in my mid-thirties when they married, I felt too old to gain an extra mother.

Sylvia and I get along famously. The only problem is when I begin a sentence in which I am referring to her. These sentences invariably begin, "My …" at which point the words fail me, and I have to pause and deliver the full backstory to explain who this person is. And if I want to refer to her delightful parents, there's sure as heck no concise combination of words to explain that connection.

Anyway, speaking of language, the dish we made comes from a cookbook given to us by our downstairs neighbors. One half of the couple hails from the Azores, a cluster of Portuguese-held islands in the Atlantic off the African coast. On return from a visit there last year, she brought us a cookbook, "Azorean Cuisine" by Zita Lima. The book is peppered with charmingly clunky translations, such as a recipe for "Broth of Turnips from the Land" (as opposed to, what, sea turnips?) and one dish simply, gloriously titled, "Rump." Mmm. Rump.


The one recipe that came most strongly recommended, and the only one we've made to date, is called "molha à la mode de Pico." (Fun fact: The mountain on the island Pico, also named Pico, is the highest mountain in Portugal.) The word molha, pronounced MOLE-yah, derives from the same root as the Spanish molé, and the similarities do not stop there. Molha is beef chuck stewed in spices like cumin, cinnamon and allspice, with a little piri-piri for kick. The combination of spices meld and mellow into a warming braise without ever lapsing into Christmas potpourri territory. It's muito bom.

Molha à la mode de Pico
Adapted from "Azorean Cuisine" by Zita Lima

The biggest adaptation here was to use our new favorite toy, the pressure cooker. We just got the Fagor 3-in-1 Electric Multi-Cooker and have already embarked upon a love affair. It reduces the cooking time drastically. But, if you do not have a pressure cooker, simply simmer the meat for a couple hours, until it is cooked through and begins to break down. But in the pressure cooker, the meat turns out tender as butter. 

Piri-piri, or malaguetta, is a very spicy varietal of birdseye pepper. I've subbed in red pepper flake to good effect, offering just enough burn to keep it interesting, but not so much as to scare off company. Our neighbor says in her family they don't use any pepper, and a little more cinnamon, so feel free to tinker with the spicing.

Want a copy of this book? Well, you'd better get your own Azorean neighbor then, cuz they don't sell it on Amazon.

2 lbs chuck, cut into bite-size cubes
5-6 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 Tbsp red pepper flake
2 Tbsp Kosher salt

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1-2 c. white wine and/or stock
1 tsp allspice
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin
1 cinnamon stick

Toss the meat, garlic, pepper flake and salt in a large bowl, combine well and let rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The meat will turn a brilliant shade of red.

Seasoned beef

Sauté the onions and garlic in the bottom of the pressure cooker until golden. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or so, then add the wine and spices. Add the meat, close up the pressure cooker and cook on high heat for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to drop normally; rapid-releasing pressure will toughen meat. When pressure has fully released, open the cooker. Skim off fat that has risen to the top. Bring remaining sauce back to the boil if you want to thicken or reduce it.

According to the cookbook, molha is traditionally served with boiled potatoes. We served it over buttered noodles and some roasted romanesco, and that was very nice indeed. 


This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. I think I am now relying on you to be my pressure cooker teacher. Or inspirer. To date I have only preserved and also steamed English Pussing (with great success, I might add). Maybe you will inspire me to try more?

  2. Sam: I demand your recipe for English pussing.
    Shelly: Grazie!
    Denise: And you’re in Noe too — does that make this neighborhood Little Azores?

  3. I am so grateful for this recipe. The father of my best friend from college (and sire of my goddaughter) was born and raised on Pico.
    I need this book! At least I’ve got a recipe to show him now.
    Thanks soooooooo much.

  4. I love the spice blend – today I am making a beef and ale stew but next time I am going to bring in a touch of the Azores!
    Congrats on your wedding!

  5. I just moved to the Azores so this was an interesting post for me. This recipe looks a lot like what they call “Alcatra” on the island I live on. This recipe looks really good- I’ll bookmark it to make sometime! And I wonder if I can find that cookbook here. I love the title “Rump”. Ha ha.

  6. Isn’t it fun to photograph romanesco? I wonder how romanesco would taste with romanesco sauce. I am pressurizing me some rump tonight!

  7. Michael: I’m more than happy to share recipes from the book. Any specific cravings?
    Sue Bette: Carbonnade is definitely on my list for pressure cookery. Mmm … beef and beer. And thanks on the congrats!
    Michelle: How interesting, and nice to hear directly from the Azores. I’ll ask my neighbor about Alcatra. I can also ask where she got the cookbook.
    Julie: Best wishes for a tender rump.

  8. Mmmm, this sounds so delicious. I’m just waiting for cold (er) winter nights to try this out! I went to Portugal last year and was absolutely delighted by their cuisine. Never made it out to the islands, but you’ve sure sparked my interest in this book!

  9. Kasey: Maybe check in with Michelle above and see if she can send you a copy. 🙂
    Lydia: Yes! It should lend itself extremely well to the slow cooker. Just make sure the meat gets well covered with broth.

  10. “The combination of spices meld and mellow into a warming braise without ever lapsing into Christmas potpourri territory.”
    This is a masterful blend of words – love it!

  11. This is the season for braised and slow cooked dishes. Every country has their variation of beef stew, and now I can add the Azores to my collection of recipes. I look forward to making it – thank you!

  12. Sylvia was impressed with your pressur cooker meal she purchased her own. Todd and I were her more than willing guinea pigs last weekend, she turned out a wonderful chicken dish and was rightly proud of herself!

  13. Azorean downstairs neighbor, here.
    Sean: Glad it was such a success! Looks like we’ll have to invest in a pressure cooker.
    Michelle: I picked up this book in a specialty store in the port city of Madelena in Pico. I don’t remember the name of the shop, but the “downtown” area of Madelena is teeny-tiny. I’m willing to bet that, all over the Islands, it’s a fairly easy find. (Alas, there’s no
    Everyone: Here are some variations to the recipe…
    Try using both beef and pork for an even more decadent stew.
    Toss the chilled meat in a bit of flour and brown it in batches in the sauteed onion and garlic. When all the meat is browned, then add the liquid and spices. The flour makes the broth rich and silky — perfect over mashed potatoes.

  14. I made this last night…it was sooo good! I had to wait for my vegetarian husband to leave the house to make it (he will never know that the pressure cooker that has been cooking brown rice for the last 15 years has been corrupted!). I got scared after adding the first of two tablespoons of salt and decided to stop at one. I ended up rinsing the beef mixture with some cheapo white wine to get the rest of the salt off. The finshed dish was so flavorful & aromatic and the beef (Humboldt County Grass Fed) was quite tender. The sauce was fantastic and only a tiny bit too salty. I hid the leftovers in the back of the fridge for future lunch. Thanks so much for posting this wonderful recipe.

  15. The original Melaguetta peppers are native to West Africa, not Brazil; however, I’m sure that this recepie must taste delicious.

  16. I’d agree with the poster that reduced the salt.
    I used just under 1 Tablespoon and it was nearly too salty for me. 2 Tablespoons would have been out of my tolerance.
    Other than that,delicious.

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