Monday, August 20, 2007

sunday supper: a taste of brazil

It's like my favorite Le Creuset French oven was crying out to be used, waiting patiently for the days of unbearable heat to pass so that it could be dusted off, called upon again to slow simmer, braise, roast, be filled with unusual cuts of meat. The temperature took a much-needed break this weekend, as did the sun, and the result was a sunday supper worthy of December. After watching Anthony Bourdain in Sao Paulo last week, I spent the last few days dreaming of the heartiest of hearty meals - Feijoada Completa, Brazil's National Dish.

Feijoada is, quite simply, a bean stew, chock full of whatever flavorful, inexpensive cuts of meat are around. There are endless numbers of feijoada recipes that vary from region to region and family to family. The supposed origin is even under dispute, though I have most commonly heard that it is a dish of the slaves and the poor, a way to extend whatever scraps of meat and bones into a full and hearty meal.

I've eaten feijoada plenty of times but only saw it properly prepared once in person, by Liv at May's house in Niteroi. My version is mostly informed by her preparation. Not having access to some of the more traditional meat components - like carne seca or Brazilian linguica - I cobbled together a collection of smoked meats, bones, and sausages to approximate it as well as I could. My pot was filled with smoked ham hocks, pork bones, smoked andouille, spicy chorizo, and smoked slab bacon.

Of course, to truly be feijoada completa, you also need the traditional accompaniments, namely farofa, or toasted yuca (manioc) flour. I was thrilled to find this in a shop in Little Brazil called Buzios Boutique. The farofa is toasted in a pan with oil and sprinkled on top of the feijoada, or just about anything you eat. The salty crunch is, at least for me, the best part of the whole production. Again, I followed Liv's lead and rendered fat from slab bacon instead of using straight oil.

Feijoada must always be accompanied by sliced oranges. Why, I don't really know, but the sweetness and acidity probably helps you digest the incredibly heavy dish. And finally, in case you thought that there was nothing healthy to be had, it is also not completa without couve, sauteed greens. In my case, I used very finely sliced collards, but flat kale is also appropriate. This is very simply sauteed in olive oil or butter, and I chose to add slivered garlic as well.

All of these components are served over white rice, which I have yet to cook correctly. I can cook Asian rice, but this long grain stuff that's supposed to be all fluffy and separated, I can't seem to get that right. My recipe after the jump:

The meats used will vary widely based on region. Use whatever is inexpensive and available, as long as it is flavorful.

1 lb dry black beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 lb pork bones (ribs, neck bones, whatever is available)
1/2 lb Portuguese Linguica (I used a spicy chorizo)
1/2 lb Smoked pork sausage (I used smoked andouille)
1/2 lb carne seca (I used slab bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced very hot pepper (optional)
salt and pepper

The night before you will be cooking, place dry beans in a large pot and cover by several inches of cool water. Let the beans soak overnight. In another pot, cover the smoked ham hock with cool water and also leave to soak. You can change out the water for the ham hock a few times over the soaking period. If using carne seca, it can also be soaked in cool water overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans, then transfer to a large, heavy cooking pot and cover by about 3 inches of fresh water. Add the bay leaves, bring to a boil, then lower to a moderate simmer and cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Skim any foam that collects off the surface, and stir the beans occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. In the meantime, prep the meats by slicing the sausages into 1/2-inch rounds and cubing the slab bacon.

In a separate pan, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add two ladles of the beans to the onion and garlic mixture and mash with the back of a spoon. Add this mixture to the simmering beans. The mashed beans will thicken the feijoada.

When the beans have about an hour of cooking left to go, add the ham hock and pork bones. About 30 minutes later, all the rest of the meat. Continue to simmer until the beans are tender, adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with sliced oranges, sauteed collards or kale, white rice, farofa, and hot sauce on the side. Serves at least six.

[Note: Some people apparently cook the meats separately from the beans, which makes no sense to me as the meats have so much flavor to add to the beans. When the meats are cooked with the beans, they are traditionally removed and served separately, which also makes no sense to me because you're going to pile it all onto your plate together anyway.]

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