Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carne de Sol - Brazil's "Meat of the Sun"

One of the most iconic foods of Brazil bears the poetic name of "meat of the sun" (carne de sol in Portuguese.) In actuality, the name is more poetic than truthful, but we'll come to that later. Like many other beloved traditional foods, carne de sol originated as a practical solution to a difficult problem, and only later became valued for its gastronomic qualities. In this case, the problem was how to preserve fresh meat in a hot, dry environment without access to refrigeration. The solution was carne de sol. Created as a necessity, it became a favorite food.

Carne de sol is a product of the hot, semi-arid interior of Northeastern Brazil (Nordeste), where the sun is constant and fierce and the wind is strong for most of the year. It is normally made from beef, but can also be made with goat meat. The fresh meat is cut into thin steaks, lightly salted and left outdoors in a covered and well-ventilated place for 2 to 4 days. (Because it is normally left in a covered place, it is not exposed to direct sunlight. This is why it really isn't "carne de sol." The photo on the right shows carne de sol in sunlight, but this is the exception.) Exposed to the dry heat and wind for this short period of time, the meat undergoes a rapid drying process that gives it a hard, salty surface which protects and preserves the moist and tender interior of the meat. Once cured, it can be kept unrefrigerated for long periods of time without spoiling.

Since prehistory, people have used salt and/or dehydration to preserve foods from spoilage. In Brazil, these techniques seem not to have been known to the indigenous population prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, but became widespread shortly after. Portugal had long used salting and dehydrating to preserve fish, notably the salt-cod known in Portuguese as bacalhau. The early ranchers and cowboys of Northeastern Brazil merely adapted the techniques of bacalhau to local livestock, and carne de sol was born.

Carne de sol is not the only salted meat that is traditionally part of Brazilian cuisine. Other similar products are carne-seca, charqui, and frescal. In later posts, I'll discuss these meats, and how they differ from carne de sol, in production and geographical distribution. But carne de sol is the most common, and most well-loved of Brazil's dried, salted meats.

Carne de sol can be grilled whole, cubed and added to stews, or shredded and used in a large variety of dishes. In the next few posts, I'll provide some of the most typical recipes for carne de sol.


  1. I am currently Living in the Recife (Nordeste) PE region of Brazil and ate Carne de Sol yesterday... a couple of things I found in your article that raises questions in my mind. First is that when we buy Carne de Sol it is not in thin strips like beef Jerky.. But in Large slabs that they cut off a kilo or two of depending on how much the customer wants to buy. The Price of good Carne do Sol was R 20.00 per Kilo on Saterday when I bought ours... the exchange was about 2.3 R = 1 US Dollar. The Slabs that we purchase here are about 2-3 inches thick, about 12-14 inches wide and if uncut would be about 22 inches in length. The Method of curing as far as I have seen differs slightly from what you have described in that they have a large glass case with a bug screen on one side that keeps the area more or less free from contaminants. the Meat is salted and then hung in the cabinet for the sun to shine on and I presume the cabinet is also somewhat well ventilated. the taste.. is awesome if and when its cooked right. If done correctly it is also very tender... if done wrong it can be tough like any other meat. I presume that there are different methods in common use... as some places meat tastes allot better than others... some needs to be boiled or rinsed before use to get the extra salt out, and others.. like what we bought this week was fine to cook directly without being too salty. Thanks for your article... now off I go in search of more info on the subject.... Obrigado.

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