How to Make Pica Pau, the Portuguese Spicy Bar Snack

Hello, Good News! Welcome to another article where we share with you some of the best recipes from around the world. Today, we are going to learn how to make pica pau, a traditional Portuguese dish that is perfect for snacking and sharing with friends.

Pica pau means fried woodpecker in Portuguese, but don’t worry, this dish does not contain any bird meat. It is actually made with tender pieces of pork or beef, cooked in a flavorful sauce with beer, garlic, chili, and mustard. The dish is usually served with bread, pickles, and olives, and eaten with toothpicks. It is a spicy and satisfying snack that goes well with a cold beer or wine.

What is the origin of pica pau?

Pica pau is a dish that has been popular in Portugal for decades, especially in the regions of Ribatejo and Alentejo. It is not clear how the dish got its name, but some say it is because the meat is cut into small pieces that resemble woodpecker pecks. Others say it is because people eat the dish by pecking at it with toothpicks, like woodpeckers do.

Pica pau is a typical example of a petisco, which is the Portuguese word for tapas or small plates. Petiscos are usually served in tascas, which are small and simple restaurants that offer cheap and tasty food. Tascas are also great places to socialize and enjoy the local culture. Pica pau is one of the most common petiscos you can find in Portugal, along with other dishes like bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish fritters), pataniscas de polvo (octopus fritters), and moelas (chicken gizzards).

How to make pica pau at home?

Making pica pau at home is very easy and quick. You only need a few ingredients and a frying pan. Here is a simple recipe that you can follow:

  1. Cut 500 grams of pork loin or beef sirloin into thin strips or cubes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat some olive oil and butter in a large frying pan over high heat. Add half an onion and four cloves of garlic, both sliced, and sauté until soft.
  3. Add some paprika, chili flakes, more salt and pepper, and the meat to the pan. Sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add two cups of beer or white wine to the pan. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
  5. Stir in some sliced pickles and serve with bread for dipping.

How to customize pica pau?

Pica pau is a very versatile dish that you can customize according to your preferences. Here are some ideas:

  • If you like your pica pau spicier, you can add more chili flakes or use Portuguese piri-piri chilies, which are very hot.
  • If you want to add more flavor to your sauce, you can add some Dijon mustard or Worcestershire sauce.
  • If you want to make your pica pau more colorful and crunchy, you can add some chopped parsley or cilantro at the end.
  • If you want to make your pica pau more filling, you can serve it with white rice or boiled potatoes instead of bread.

What are the benefits of pica pau?

Pica pau is not only delicious but also nutritious. Here are some of the benefits of this dish:

  • Pica pau is rich in protein, which helps build and repair muscles and tissues.
  • Pica pau contains iron, which helps transport oxygen in the blood and prevent anemia.
  • Pica pau provides vitamin B12, which supports the nervous system and the production of red blood cells.
  • Pica pau has garlic, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Pica pau has beer or wine, which contain antioxidants that protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.

How many calories are in pica pau?

One serving of pica pau (about 125 grams) has about 300 calories, depending on the type of meat and sauce you use. This does not include the bread or other accompaniments you may have with it. If you want to reduce the calories in your pica pau, you can use leaner cuts of meat, less oil and butter, and more vegetables.

How to store and reheat pica pau?

Pica pau can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. To reheat it, you can microwave it for a few minutes or warm it up in a saucepan over low heat. You may need to add some water or broth to thin the sauce if it is too thick. Pica pau can also be frozen for up to three months. To thaw it, you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight or microwave it on a low setting.

How to serve pica pau?

Pica pau is a dish that is meant to be shared and enjoyed with others. Here are some tips on how to serve it:

  • Use a large platter or a shallow bowl to serve your pica pau. This way, everyone can reach for the meat and the sauce easily.
  • Provide plenty of toothpicks for people to pick up the meat pieces. You can also use small forks or skewers.
  • Have some bread slices or rolls on the side for dipping into the sauce. You can also toast the bread lightly for extra crunch.
  • Offer some olives, pickles, cheese, and ham as additional snacks. These are typical Portuguese appetizers that go well with pica pau.
  • Pour some cold beer or wine for everyone to drink. These beverages complement the spiciness and richness of pica pau.

Pica Pau Nutrition Facts

To give you an idea of the nutritional value of pica pau, here is a table that shows the approximate amounts of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients per serving (125 grams):

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value
Calories 300 15%
Fat 18 g 28%
Saturated Fat 7 g 35%
Cholesterol 90 mg 30%
Sodium 400 mg 17%
Carbohydrates 6 g 2%
Fiber 1 g 4%
Sugar 2 g
Protein 28 g 56%
Vitamins and Minerals (% Daily Value)
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 10%
Vitamin D 0%
Vitamin E 5%
Vitamin K 10%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) 10%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 15%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 40%
Vitamin B6 25%
Vitamin B12 80%
Folate 5%
Pantothenic Acid 10%
Biotin 0%
Choline 15%
Calcium 2%
Iron 15%
Magnesium 10%
Phosphorus 25%
Potassium 10%
Sodium 17%
Zinc 25%
Copper 10%
Manganese 5%
Selenium 40%
Iodine 0%

Pica Pau FAQ

What is the difference between pica pau and iscas?

Pica pau and iscas are both Portuguese dishes that use pork or beef, but they have some differences. Iscas are thin slices of liver, usually marinated in vinegar and garlic, and fried in olive oil. They are often served with french fries or rice. Pica pau are small pieces of meat, cooked in a beer or wine sauce with spices and pickles. They are usually served with bread or potatoes.

Can I use chicken or turkey for pica pau?

Yes, you can use chicken or turkey for pica pau, but the dish will have a different texture and flavor. Chicken and turkey are leaner and more tender than pork or beef, so they will cook faster and absorb less sauce. You may need to adjust the cooking time and the amount of liquid accordingly.

Can I make pica pau vegetarian or vegan?

Yes, you can make pica pau vegetarian or vegan by using tofu, seitan, mushrooms, or other plant-based proteins instead of meat. You can also use vegetable broth or water instead of beer or wine, and vegan butter or oil instead of butter. You can also omit the pickles if they contain animal products.

What kind of beer or wine should I use for pica pau?

You can use any kind of beer or wine that you like for pica pau, but some suggestions are lager, ale, pilsner, or stout for beer, and white, red, rosé, or sparkling for wine. You can also use cider, sherry, port, or brandy for a different twist. The alcohol will evaporate during cooking, but it will add flavor and aroma to the sauce.

How do I make pica pau gluten-free?

To make pica pau gluten-free, you need to use gluten-free ingredients and avoid cross-contamination. Some tips are:

  • Use gluten-free beer or wine, or substitute with gluten-free broth or water.
  • Use gluten-free bread or potatoes for serving.
  • Use gluten-free pickles and mustard.
  • Use a separate cutting board, knife, frying pan, and utensils for preparing and cooking the dish.
  • Check the labels of all the ingredients for possible gluten sources.

How do I make pica pau keto-friendly?

To make pica pau keto-friendly, you need to reduce the amount of carbs in the dish and increase the amount of fat. Some tips are:

  • Use low-carb beer or wine, or substitute with broth or water.
  • Omit the bread and serve with cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower instead.
  • Add more butter or oil to the sauce.
  • Use sugar-free pickles and mustard.
  • Check the nutrition facts of all the ingredients for their carb content.

How do I make pica pau paleo-friendly?

To make pica pau paleo-friendly, you need to avoid any processed or refined ingredients and use only natural and whole foods. Some tips are:

  • Use organic and grass-fed meat.
  • Use natural beer or wine, or substitute with broth or water.
  • Omit the butter and use ghee or coconut oil instead.
  • Omit the bread and serve with roasted vegetables instead.
  • Use homemade pickles and mustard.
  • Avoid any additives, preservatives, or artificial flavors in the ingredients.

What are some variations of pica pau?

Pica pau is a dish that can be adapted to different cuisines and tastes. Here are some variations of pica pau that you can try:

  • Mexican pica pau: Use chicken or beef, and add cumin, oregano, chili powder, and lime juice to the sauce. Serve with tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
  • Indian pica pau: Use lamb or chicken, and add curry powder, turmeric, ginger, and garam masala to the sauce. Serve with naan bread, yogurt, and cilantro.
  • Italian pica pau: Use pork or beef, and add basil, oregano, rosemary, and tomato paste to the sauce. Serve with pasta, cheese, and parsley.
  • Chinese pica pau: Use pork or beef, and add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and cornstarch to the sauce. Serve with rice, scallions, and sesame seeds.

What are some dishes that go well with pica pau?

Pica pau is a dish that can be enjoyed as a main course or as a snack. Here are some dishes that go well with pica pau:

  • Salad: A fresh and crisp salad can balance the richness and spiciness of pica pau. You can use any greens and vegetables that you like, and dress them with a simple vinaigrette or lemon juice.
  • Soup: A warm and hearty soup can complement the flavor and texture of pica pau. You can use any broth-based or creamy soup that you like, such as chicken noodle, potato leek, or tomato basil.
  • Dessert: A sweet and refreshing dessert can end the meal on a high note. You can use any fruit-based or creamy dessert that you like, such as apple pie, cheesecake, or ice cream.

Where can I find more recipes like pica pau?

If you liked this recipe for pica pau, you may also like these other recipes from our website:

  • Bifanas: Thin slices of pork marinated in garlic, wine, and spices, and fried in a sandwich roll.
  • Francesinha: A sandwich made with ham, cheese, sausage, steak, and egg, covered with a spicy tomato sauce.
  • Bacalhau à Brás: Shredded salted cod mixed with potatoes, eggs, onions, and olives.


We hope you enjoyed this article about how to make pica pau, the Portuguese spicy bar snack. Pica pau is a delicious and easy dish that you can make at home with a few ingredients and a frying pan. It is perfect for sharing with friends and family over a cold drink and some good conversation.

If you have any questions or comments about this recipe or any other topic related to Portuguese cuisine, please feel free to leave them below. We would love to hear from you!

And don’t forget to check out our other articles for more amazing recipes from around the world. Thank you for reading!