We’re making Porto, Portugal’s favorite hangover helper this week. Just like one of Portugal’s most famous navigators, Ferdinand Magellan, we’re hoping to circumnavigate a huge sandwich packed with bread, meats, cheese, fries, and a savory sauce. This is the Francesinha and it’s a glorious mess of a sandwich. Grab a fork.
Once a month I plan to make a sandwich that has been suggested by a randomly selected member from my Patreon community. This is my second patron suggested sandwich. While I was aware of the Francesinha, I didn’t really have it on my list until Richard Pugh suggested it when I reached out to him to let him know it was his turn. Thanks Richard. I hope you enjoy!
What is a Francesinha?
The Francesinha was invented in Porto, Portugal by a person named Daniel David de Silva way back in 1953. The story goes that Silva was attempting to create a sandwich inspired by the croque monsieur sandwich that calls France home.
The name Francesinha translates to “little French woman” which also alludes to the fact that Silva was inspired by an existing French sandwich. After making and eating this sandwich, I can say that it is neither little nor French, so the naming convention might be a little inaccurate, but regardless, we’ll push on.
The Franceshinha is NOT an open-faced sandwich, but it certainly eats like an open-faced sandwich. This sandwich is an opulent experience with 4 or more different meats, melty cheese, and a sauce made from tomatoes and beer all topped with a sunny-side-up egg. The Francesinha is typically served fully covered in sauce with french fries on the side or swimming in the savory sauce alongside the sandwich.
Here’s a video from a Portuguese chef associated with the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) and she talks a bit about the history of the Francesinha and the ingredients involved. She does not cover two of the ingredients that we’ll get into later, but it seems like Francesinha sandwiches differ from restaurant to restaurant in Porto.
More Francesinha details from the web
If you want to dig deeper, here’s some more Francesinha content that you should read.
Now that we mostly know what a Francesinha is, let’s make some! First, we need some bread to build our feast on top of.
If you need a big rectangular loaf of bread, I’m your guy. This is my full Pullman white bread loaf recipe that I have written about and shared in earlier blog posts. This is a big rectangular white bread loaf that is easy to deal with once it’s in the pan and rising.
The bread is not the star of this sandwich, but it does hold everything together and needs to be prepared to soak up some sauce. Much like the croque monsieur that the Francesinha is inspired by you need bread with a bit of structure to stand up to the Portuguese sandwiching process.
This blocky-looking bread that this recipe produces requires a special pan called a Pullman loaf pan that is 13 inches long and 4 inches wide. This type of pan also has a lid, which encourages the bread to bake in an almost perfect rectangle shape. You allow the dough to rise to nearly the top of the pan and then add the lid right before the baking process starts. Near the end of baking, you can remove the lid and add the pan back to the oven which helps to brown the top surface a bit more.
Both photos above are of fully baked bread that is actually upside down. I suggest resting and allowing the loaf to cool inverted like this because otherwise the top of your bread will sag and curve inward. This only matters visually, but if I’m shooting for rectangles, I don’t want curves.
Here’s my simple white bread Pullman loaf recipe that churns out bread you can turn into Texas toast or the base for your next Francesinha if you want.
Toast that bread
Toasting the slices of bread is 100% required in a Francesinha.
Spoiler alert: this is going to be a soggy sandwich. A glorious, frickin, soggy, sandwich and we’re going to need a solid base structure and scaffolding that will hold up to some serious saucing.
This means we need to toast our bread. For some types of sandwiches, I prefer to toast or griddle bread with butter in a skillet, but for a Francesinha, I simply used my toaster oven to dry the bread out or I toasted it dry—without butter—in a pan to give it some texture and crunch. Most of that crunch is going to disappear after sauce time, but we need to give the toast its best chance to survive.
Anyway, just toast the bread or you’ll regret it.
I did not go into full authenticity mode for the meat or cheese portion of the sandwich. What I did was try to use steak, sausage, and cheese that I felt might be easy to find in a typical grocery store.
The two types of sausage that this sandwich typically includes are fresh sausage and smoked sausage. Linguiça is a smoked sausage that should be commonly available in Portugal, but it’s not as easy to find everywhere else.
I chose to use some Italian sausage, removed from its casing as my “fresh” sausage, and a bit of Mexican chorizo to serve as a smoked sausage. As I said above, the true Francesinha would not have used either of these specific types of sausages, but for me it seemed more important to make this already complicated recipe a little more user-friendly and I sacrificed some authenticity for some simplicity.
For this sandwich, you need a very thin cut of steak. While you probably will not be picking this Francesinha up and eating it like a normal sandwich, you still need to be able to bite through the steak. We don’t need any 1.5-inch or 2-inch ribeye steaks here, stick with something thinner and probably a lot cheaper since the meat will be right in the middle of bread, sausage, and melty cheese.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the ham application in a Francesinha. I used basic deli-style ham and that’s all she wrote. I guess if you were a crazy person, you could cook your own ham and slice it up, but that seems like massive overkill.
The important stuff (molho de francesinha)
The sauce in the Francesinha seems to be the most important part of the sandwich experience.
From all the videos I watched and articles I read in researching this sandwich, Francesinha sauce recipes seem to differ from restaurant to restaurant. The two most used ingredients are tomatoes of some sort and beer—along with other types of alcohol.
Since I’ve never actually been to Portugal and I’m recreating a sandwich served in its second-largest city, I knew I would have to research to come up with a Francesinha sauce without tasting it. I studied the first three results on google for “Francesinha recipe” as well as the Francesinha sauce recipe that Sandwich Tribunal shared in their very informative post back in 2016. What I ended up making was a blend of all four recipes, picking and choosing tips and ingredients from each one to create my own tomato and beer sauce.
The four Francesinha sauce recipes that I focused on for this sandwich lean hard into meaty savoriness, so I did too. I used beef broth and a product known as Better than Bouillon beef base as well as Worcestershire sauce to amp up the beefy meatiness. I also cooked my steak and sausages in the pan prior to making the sauce so that the leftover oils and residual meat bits would end up present in the sauce.
Some recipes online include white wine, but ALL recipes seem to contain some beer and some sort of hard liquor. Many recipes have fortified port wine since this is Portugal after all. I used beer, port wine, and whiskey in my recipe.
My sauce recipe turned out to be very good on the sandwich as well as a good dip or dressing for the french fries. I’m not sure how authentic it is, but it hit the spot for this sandwich experience for me.
A fried egg and melty cheese
I quickly whipped up a sunny-side-up egg to top my versions of the Francesinha, but I personally don’t think the egg is actually needed. This is a sandwich of over-the-top extravagance with so much meat, cheese, and sauce that an egg gets lost, so if you wanted to give yourself the extra 5 minutes that cooking a sunny-side-up egg takes I would say it could be dropped.
For the sake of a sliver of authenticity, I did make an egg, which justified cutting holes in my cheese slices, which you’ll learn about soon.
A lot of articles and recipes for a Francesinha suggest that you simply use “cheese” as the cheese in this sandwich. The Sandwich Tribunal felt that Edam was the right cheese to choose. Another of the top 3 googleable recipes suggests “mild cheddar cheese.” I decided I would try to find a melty, neutral-ish tasting cheese that I could find available in slices. Because of this, I picked slices of Havarti.
I feel like you could choose provolone, gouda, and even some blasphemous white American cheese would work fantastically here. The Francesinha simply needs a good melty sliced cheese to cover the sandwich which will then be covered in sauce.
We’re going to turn this sliced cheese into a cross shape and then we’re going to melt it on top of the sandwich and egg. But first, we need to cut circles in the cheese so that the upcoming egg yolk will be exposed. Just trust me that this will all make sense in a few minutes.
Protip: the half circles of cheese we just cut are perfectly sized for a bit of Ritz cracker action. Don’t let snack time go to waste.
Optional but totally not optional
You don’t have to use this next component of the Francesinha, but I and everyone else will probably be judging you if you skip it. Be warned.
I’ll be straight with you on this one, I did not make these fries from scratch. When you’re making a Francesinha, you are already juggling a lot of different components and I felt that fries were above and beyond what I could handle without going crazy (aka: crazier) in my kitchen.
These are Ore-Ida brand Extra-Crispy Fast-Food fries and they are my favorite brand of freezer fries to have in my house. A little pro-tip from me to you, if you have skinny, frozen fries from Ore-Ida or another company, check the packaging and see if they have a stovetop option for cooking. Just a tablespoon of oil in a skillet cooks up a far better french fry than oven baking for sure.
If you’re overly ambitious or just want to make every component from scratch, here’s a good french fry recipe I have shared in the past. But feel free to use frozen fries if you have a brand that you like. These fries are going to be coated or dipped in a savory sauce, so they’ll be fantastic whether you make them from scratch or not.
Hey, let’s make a Francesinha. It’s going to be great. Grab yourself a beverage and let’s get started.
As you can see from the side view of the above photo, I used two of the Italian sausage pieces to sit alongside the chorizo link to make sure that everything was balanced. We’re not trying to make a teeter-totter sandwich here.
Melt the cheese
In my three attempts at Francesinha-ing I built a sandwich like you can see above (in the naked-as-heck photo) and then I draped the sunny side egg on top and blanketed it with Havarti slices with holes cut out. Then I placed it all under my oven broiler for just a couple of minutes until the cheese was melty. Keep an eye on it because you do not want the egg yolk to cook through and become hard.
As you can see, this sandwich is a knife-and-fork endeavor. But that melty cheese and the sauce with a side of fries make for a tasty experience.
Here’s my Francesinha-style sandwich recipe. I hope I did it justice, but even if I didn’t, it’s super tasty and the week I was making these I probably gained 8 pounds. But that’s neither here nor there. Just try the recipe, it’s great!
A Francesinha is a fantastically extravagant experience of bread, meat, melty cheese, and sauce. This is a complicated sandwich. There are some steps in the recipe, like cooking the steak and sausages, that you should probably be prepared to accomplish on your own without instruction before tackling the Francesinha. Read the notes at the bottom of this recipe before starting.
- 3 ounces chorizo sausage
- 4 to 5 ounces Italian sausage, casing removed
- 1 thin steak (like a boneless ribeye or sirloin)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1⁄2 large Spanish or Vidalia onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon peri peri sauce (can use another hot sauce)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon
- 16 ounces lager beer
- 2⁄3 cup port wine
- 2 tablespoons whiskey
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- salt and ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3⁄4 cup milk
- french fries (optional - frozen or homemade)
- 1 large egg
- 2 slices of white bread, toasted
- 5 slices of Havarti cheese
- steak (from above)
- sausages (from above)
- 2 slices of deli ham
- Francesinha sauce (from above)
Meat: cook the steak and sausages in a large pot over medium heat. Once the steak and sausages are cooked to your satisfaction, remove them to a plate to rest. At this point you are going to cook the sauce, and the meat will grow cold, but the point here is that the leftover flavor left in the pot from cooking the steak and sausage will go forward into the sauce. You will have an opportunity to heat the meat up again before sandwiching.
Francesinha sauce: reduce the heat under the pot to around medium or just below medium and then add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and bubbly, add the diced onion and cook for 5 to 7 minutes to soften the onion.
Once the onion is soft, add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
After 2 minutes, add all other ingredients for the Francesinha sauce except for the salt, pepper, milk, and cornstarch. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for around 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove bay leaves and if you have an immersion blender, you can blend the sauce to a consistent thickness. If you do not have an immersion blender, you can remove the pot at this point from the heat and blend the sauce in a traditional blender. But be careful because the heat in a blender can be a little explosive. You just want the sauce to be smooth.
Once the sauce is blended and smooth, add the pot back to medium heat and add cornstarch and milk. Bring it to a simmer and cook for another 20 minutes. At this point you should taste the sauce and see if it needs salt and pepper. Season it until it tastes good to you.
While this last 20 minutes of the sauce is cooking, it would be a good time to make french fries or bake some frozen fries in the oven.
Sandwich assembly: build the sandwich by first toasting the bread. While the bread is toasting, fry a sunny-side-up egg in a pan over medium-low heat.
While you are cooking the sunny-side-up egg, you can also warm up your steak and sausages. If your pan is large enough you can use the same one, otherwise, you may need two pans.
Once the fries are ready and the egg is ready, it's time to build the sandwich. Add a slice of toast and top it with the first slice of Havarti cheese. Top the cheese with your thin steak. Place the two sausages on top of the steak and top the sausages with a couple of slices of ham. Then add the second slice of toasted bread to complete the sandwich.
Top the sandwich with your sunny-side-up egg.
Layer the additional four slices of Havarti cheese around the egg yolk (or cut half circles in the cheese slices to encircle the yolk). Make sure the cheese is slightly draping down the sides of the sandwich.
Broil the sandwich in the oven with cheese on top until the cheese has fully melted down the sides. Keep a close eye on this process so that the egg yolk doesn't cook all the way through and harden.
Add the sandwich to a bowl and add french fries around the sandwich.
Pour Francesinha sauce on top of the sandwich and the fries into the bowl until everything is covered.
Serve and enjoy.
You can make the Francesinha sauce well in advance. Just keep it in a refrigerator in a sealed container and when you're ready to use it, microwave it or warm it up enough for your sandwich(es) in a small pot.
You are in charge of cooking your own steak and sausages in this recipe to the degree of doneness that you are comfortable with. I do not provide instructions for steak or sausage cooking.
You also need to know how to cook a sunny-side-up egg before tackling this recipe. I do not give instructions for this or the steak/meat cooking.
Check back next week
Next week I plan to take one of the more recent tiktok and instagram trends and turn it into sandwich format.