Espetadas—Portuguese Beef Skewers

Espetadas are Portuguese-style skewers most often using beef tenderloin, a very traditional dish, especially in the islands of Madeira. They are seasoned with typical Portuguese ingredients and cooked on open flames for the perfect amount of smokiness and flavor. Here however, we will used a gas grill.

We happened to have some filet mignon strips leftover from a large beef tenderloin that was cut into steaks. And coincidentally, just as we were figuring out the best way to use them up, Russ remembered an article from our most recent Milk Street magazine Espetada-Style Grilled Garlic and Bay Beef Skewers.

The secret of espetadas on the island of Madeira lies not in the meat, but rather the skewer itself, which are freshly cut laurel branches—the same type once used to crown athletes in ancient Rome and Greece. Today, Europe’s largest remaining laurel forest sits on Madeira. However, one needs to know which to cut because 4 of the 5 varieties are toxic! We’ll stick with wooden or metal skewers, thanks.

In this recipe, don’t use fresh bay leaves, they won’t grind down to a fine powder. Also, no need to use a top-shelf Madeira here, an inexpensive non-vintage bottle will do just fine. As far as marinating the meat, you can do so anywhere from 1 to 24 hours. By the time we thought to make this, we only had about 4 hours but that was enough to permeate the beef with all of that goodness.

Along with the beef cubes (of which we only had 1 pound), we decided to marinate some cremini mushrooms, skewer and grill them too. Our other sides included heirloom caprese tomato salad and freshly picked sweet corn on the cob steamed with fresh thyme.

To save a little time later on, after we prepared the marinade and tossed the mushrooms and beef chunks in, we went ahead and made the sauce up to the point of adding the butter. It can sit at room temperature for several hours then be reheated with the addition of butter when the skewers come off the grill and rest.

The next time we made them, we added cocktail tomatoes to the skewers.

Portuguese Beef Skewers

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 1/2-2 lbs. beef tenderloin, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 10 dried bay leaves, plus fresh for skewers* if desired
  • 1/2 cup Madeira wine
  • 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. salted butter, cut into 2 pieces and chilled
  • 4 Portuguese bread buns, or other bread, optional
  • Wooden or metal skewers


  1. In a spice grinder, combine the bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, then pulverize to a fine powder.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 teaspoons of that bay salt, 1 tablespoon of grated garlic and 1 tablespoon EVOO, using a fork to mash until well combined.
  3. Add the cubes of beef and coat them well with the marinade.
  4. Let it marinate covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and bay salt, stirring until fragrant and sizzling, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant and sizzling, about 10 seconds.
  7. Add the Madeira and bring to a simmer, then reduce to low and cook, stirring occasionally until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cover and set aside off the heat.
  8. When ready to cook, thread the cubes of meat onto the skewers (*alternating with a fresh bay leaf if desired.)
  9. Place skewers on hot side of grill. Cook uncovered until the beef is lightly charred on both sides and the center of the thickest piece reaches 125° for medium-rare, 8-10 minutes total.
  10. Transfer to a platter, tent with foil, and let rest while you finish the sauce.
  11. Set the pan containing the Madeira reduction over medium and heat uncovered just until steaming. Remove from the heat, add the butter and swirl the pan until the butter is melted and the sauce is emulsified.
  12. Remove meat from the skewers and drizzle with the sauce.

Recipe adapted from Rebecca Richmond from Milk Street

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