Barden’s Bites: Espetadas com Milho Frito (Swords of Meat with Fried Polenta)

Nigel writes: "I've known Allegra McEvedy for quite a few years and really respect her as a chef, but also as someone who upholds the purity of her ingredients, wanting to know where they're from and how they've been sourced. She's a spokesperson for the Fairtrade Foundation and not surprisingly was awarded an MBE in 2008 for her services to the hospitality industry. In 2003 she co-founded LEON, one of my favourite healthy fast food joints, which has justifiably expanded. Her BBC Economy Gastronomy TV series, typifies Allegra's approach to cooking by spending less on your ingredients but getting the most out of them. I really enjoyed cooking her Portuguese Swords of Meat from her book, 'Around the World in 120 Recipes', published by Octopus Publishing, and hope you do too.

Wine Tip: “I think it's appropriate that an Iberian wine is drunk with this dish, and the Don Jacobo Rioja Crianza Tinto 2008 is an exceptional wine that provides a smoky exotica, underpinned by cherry and a touch of vanilla. Made from a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo, this beautifully lingering Rioja is a real darling on the awards circuit, regularly acclaimed by Decanter."

Espetadas com Milho Frito (Swords of Meat with Fried Polenta) by Allegra McEvedy from ‘Around the World in 120 recipes’, published by Conran Octopus.

Allegra says: "Espetadas are very large kebabs particular to Madeira and Portugal; basically a yard of grilled meat per head.

“The chicken espetada has a scrunched-up butter wrapper at the hook end (i.e. the top) of the skewer, so that when dangling on the stand, the butter from the paper melts down on the meat, keeping it moist and glistening. The beef relies on chunks of beef fat interspersed with the meat for doing the same job. As the meat rests on the vertical skewers, these tasty fatty bits combine with the meat juices to drop on to the bread underneath, which is then used to wrap the meat in.
You aren’t going to have the espetada kit, but all you need is some very long kebab sticks, a grill (preferably open) and some kind of fashioned stand for the kebabs, or keep the skewers upright during resting".

Serves 6-8
Prep time:
30 mins for meat prep (or ask your friendly butcher) + 1-2 hrs marinating time or overnight.
Cooking time:
45 mins


For the chicken
1kg / 2lb chicken breasts
5 bay leaves, slightly crushed
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
60ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1lemon (about 60ml)

For the beef
1.5kg /3lb hunk of sirloin
5 bay leaves, slightly crushed
3 cloves of garlic
60ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml red wine vinegar

For the polenta
extra virgin olive oil
250g/8oz quick-cook polenta
light oil for frying
salt and pepper


Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise and then 3 times crosswise so that each breast makes 6 pieces.

Trim the fat and skin off the sirloin and cut it into 3cm /11Ž4 inch chunks.

You should be left with about 1kg/2lb of cubed meat and 500g /1lb of fat.

Cut the fat into squares of about 3cm /11Ž4 inches as well.

Put the beef into one bowl and the chicken into another.

Add the bay, garlic and olive oil, and lots of ground black pepper to each bowl, then add the lemon juice to the chicken and the vinegar to the beef.

Leave the meat in the marinade for 1-2hrs or overnight.

To make the polenta thins; heat 1L/13Ž4 pints of water with a good sprinkling of salt and a splash of olive oil.

When the water is at a rolling boil, pour in the polenta, whisking as you pour.

Cook for about 3 mins, stirring with a wooden spoon. Check the seasoning.

Oil a baking tray that will hold the polenta in a layer about 1-2cm/ 1Ž2 - 3Ž4 inch thick.

Spread the polenta on to it and level the surface with a palette knife.

Leave it to set and cool for about 30 mins.

Thread the meat on to skewers, packing it closely.

Intersperse the beef chunks with the squares of fat, which will melt during the cooking and make the meat taste yummy.

The chicken skewers should be started with a piece of crumpled butter paper (which does the job of the beef fat), followed by the meat.

When the polenta has cooled, cut it into squares about 3cm/11Ž4 inches across.

To fry the polenta, use a thick frying pan with oil about 1cm /1Ž2 inch deep over a medium high heat.

Drop in the squares of polenta in batches and fry for about 5 mins each side, until crispy.
Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven.

Season the meat well before cooking it on the barbecue or under the grill – it’s really hard to give the barbecuing cooking times, but mine take about 8 mins on both sides, plus a little rest on your homemade stand with the warm flatbread underneath the skewers for their juices to drip on to.

Have a bowl or basket of the crisp polenta thins to the side and serve with an undressed salad of intense leaves, like rocket or watercress, and some ripe tomatoes.

Nigel's Top Tips

Cooking the veg separately is a good idea as quite often if the meat is done to perfection, the veg are likely to be over or under cooked.

For an extra little bit of Mediterranean spice, sprinkle smoked paprika over your polenta, just before you take it out of them pan.

To get the full moistening effect you can add a bit of extra butter to your scrunched up wrapper just before your meat is rested vertically, so it can run down the chicken and onto the flat bread.

Buy any amount of the award-winning Don Jacobo Rioja Crianza Tinto 2008 before the 30th September and you will automatically enter our prize draw to win one of two copies of 'Around the World in 120 recipes' by Allegra McEvedy courtesy of Conran Octopus.
As an added incentive enjoy 20% OFF Don Jacobo Rioja Crianza Tinto 2008 until the 30th September. Enter promotional code - Jacobo - at the basket. 

Around the World in 120 Recipes by Allegra McEvedy, published by Conran Octopus and available at Amazon


Written by: Nigel Barden

Nigel Barden 


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