Friday, April 30, 2010

Restaurant review - Guia Quatro Rodas reviews D.O.M.

As mentioned below, SãoPaulo's D.O.M. restaurant was recently awarded 18th position among the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

In Brazil, the Guia Quatro Rodas is considered the supreme authority in gastronomic criticism, and restaurants watch for the additions or subtraction of stars from their establishment's listing as nervously as do French restaurateurs when the Guide Michelin publishes their annual ranking.

This is Guia Quatro Rodas most recent review of D.O.M. which I've translated from the original Portuguese version found on their website.

Alex Atala is not only the chef of D.O.M. He has become famous around the world as a sort-of ambassador of Brazilian cuisine, hosting visiting top chefs when they are in Brazil, or demonstrating to them in their home territories the elements of Brazilian gastronomy. But it is at the tables of his own restaurant that he truly proves his quality as a chef. In a beautiful glassed-in kitchen - where a collection of images of St. Benedict, the patron saint of his profession, is displayed - full of the latest in culinary equipment, like thermomixers and thermocirculators, Atala's team, commanded by subchef Geovane Carneiro, creates wonderfully creative dishes, influenced by the cuisines of the world, but primarily influenced by Brazilian cuisine. In the pantry, for example, truffles and foie gras have given way to jambu, to tucupi and priprioca. a plant that only became "comestible" after long research by Ataya. Along side dishes such as fettucine de pupunha com manteiga de coral e camarão glaceado" (palm heart fettucine with lobster coral butter and iced shrimp), the menu features a tasting menu, which ranges from four to eight courses, and also a recently-created vegetarian menu. In this menu, Ataya gives herbs and vegetables "prime ingredient" status - another investment in the appreciation of products of the earth, primarily sourced from small local farmers and vendors. Since the restaurant is extremely popular, it's best to reserve a table well before the date.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is That Catupiry in My Sushi? or What's a Hot Filadelfia??

Brazil is crazy for sushi. And when I say crazy, I mean it literally. Due to the presence of a large population of Japanese-Brazilians, descendants of immigrants from Japan in the early 20th century, even smaller cities in Brazil are likely to have a Japanese restaurant or snack-bar selling sushi. Supermarkets have fresh take-out sushi counters, and most self-service buffet restaurants will have a large selection of sushi. And this is in a country that is not accustomed to eating much "ethnic" food - apart from Italian and Japanese cuisine, most Brazilians are unfamiliar with the cooking of other cultures.

The reason I used the word crazy when describing how Brazilians are about sushi is that they have taken the traditional Japanese style of food called sushi and made it something entirely their own. There are kinds of sushi eaten in Brazil that would shock most Japanese and probably cause the most discriminating Japanese sushi purists to have an apoplexy.

In the most recent posts of Flavors of Brazil, I've been discussing Brazilian cream cheeses, and in particular one called Catupiry. You wouldn't think this would segue naturally into a discussion of sushi, but it does when you're talking about Brazil. For one of the most popular things to put into sushi is cream cheese, either the generic product which goes under the name of requeijão, or the more distinctive Catupiry. Some of the most popular sushis, rolls in particular, showcase cream cheese along with expected sushi ingredients like salmon, shrimp and tuna, and less expected ones, like strawberries and mangoes. Since the entire idea of dairy products is unfamiliar in Japanese cuisine, these sushis are oddities indeed.

The Brazilian sushi which strays the farthest from its roots in Japan is something called the "hot filadelfia" ("hot" here being pronounced ah-chee). Since we're talking cream cheese in this posting, maybe you've been able to figure out the "filadelfia" part of the name - it's the Portuguese spelling of Philadelphia, as in cream cheese! As for the "hot" they are talking temperature, not spice, as these sushi rolls are deep fried to a crispy brown prior to being served. (Deep frying gives them a nice crunch, and melts the cream cheese inside).

If you think about it, Chicago Deep Dish pizza is as far away from the original Neopolitan pizza as "hot filadelfia" is from it's Japanese roots, so there's nothing to sneer at when faced with a plate of "hot filadelfia". Try one if you're ever offered one - perhaps, like me, you'll be surprised how delicious they are, and will grow to like them. Millions of Brazilians do - websites and blogs by and for the Brazilian diaspora are full of plaints about missing the taste of a nice, piping hot, "hot filadelfia" like you can find back home in Brazil.

Brazilian Restaurant in World's Bottom 50 List

While the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards showered honors on chef Alex Atala's D.O.M. restaurant (see preceding post on Flavors of Brazil), the editorial staff of the Chicago Tribune newspaper's gastronomy blog, The Stew, was busy creating the satirical 50 Worst Restaurants in the World list.

Just as the 50 Best list featured one Brazilian restaurant, so did the 50 Worst list. Coming in at number 15 was Sal e Carvão Brazilian Steak and Wax. That's 3 places higher (or lower?) than D.O.M. placed in the 50 Best list. Impressive? I think so.

Unfortunately, the list didn't give any indication as to the city or location of this restaurant, and I've been unable to find it on Google Maps or in any of the usual restaurant guides. Have any readers of Flavors of Brazil been there? I'd love to hear what it's like.

(Incidentally, the entire list is very funny, and it's worth a few minutes of your time to take a look at it.)

Brazilian Restaurant in World's Top 50 List

This week, there has been a lot of coverage of the unveiling of the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards, which was topping this year by a new champion, Noma in Copenhagen. One Brazilian restaurant was honored by inclusion in this list, D.O.M. in São Paulo, in position number 18. It was highlighted by winning the ancillary Acqua Panna award as the best restaurant in South America. D.O.M. focuses on Brazilian gastronomy, and pays particular attention to local and sustainable sources for its ingredients. The executive chef of D.O.M., Alex Atala, is considered one of Brazil's brightest culinary stars, and has been at D.O.M. since its inception in 1999.

Domestically, D.O.M. is a perennial winner of multiple awards, and has been awarded the maximum possible  3 stars by the Guia Quatro Rodas (the Brazilian equivalent of the Michelin Guide). Its international prestige continues to grow, as shown by its ranking in the annual list of World's 50 Best Restaurants - in 2007 it was listed in 40th position, in 2009 it moved up to 24th position, and now in 2010 it has jumped 6 places to number 18. Perhaps in the next few years, it will join the elite top 10. We'll have to wait at least one more year to see.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

RECIPE - Shrimp with Catupiry (Camarão ao Catupiry)

This shrimp dish, which comes from the state of Espírito Santo, makes a rich and satisfying main course, served with white rice and a green salad. Because of the amount of Catupiry cheese in the dish, adding anything more to the meal would be overkill.

Although Catupiry cheese is exported from Brazil to the USA, its distribution there is primarily limited to markets in Brazilian neighborhoods and communities. If you live near one of these, it's worth searching out Catupiry for this dish - if not, you can substitute 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese and 8 oz. Brie.
RECIPE - Shrimp with Catupiry (Camarão ao Catupiry)
Serves 2

1 lb. medium or large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of one lime
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced fresh tomato (or drained canned tomato)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp. annatto oil or annatto paste (can substitute sweet paprika)
2 cups Catupiry cheese (see above for substitutions)
Season the shrimp with the salt, lime juice, olive oil and garlic. Reserve.

In a large, heavy saucepan, place the shrimp with all the juice from the marinade. Add the chopped tomato, onion and cilantro, plus the annatto or paprika. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup boiling water if necessary to avoid drying out. Bring to boil, add the cheese, turn off heat, and stir until the cheese melts into the cooked marinaded shrimp. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Catupiry Cheese

One of the perils of creating a product that is tremendously successful is that the trademarked name of the product becomes a generic name for anything that resembles or imitates the product, and the trademark is lost. That is exactly what happened to Cellophane (which became cellophane), Thermos (which became thermos) and what is currently happening to Google and FedEx.

I've just discovered that this same process happens in Brazil, and that a type of cheese that I often see in recipes and on restaurant menus is not, in fact, a type of cheese at all, but rather a trademarked product name the use of which is legally restricted in theory to the owner of the trademark. The cheese is called Catupiry® , a rich and smooth cream cheese with a flavor that recalls Brie or Camembert. Brazilian cookbooks and online recipe sites are full of recipes for dishes such as "frango ao catupiry" or "carne de sol ao catupiry", none of which capitalize the word catupiry nor acknowledge that catupiry is a brand of cheese, not a type of cheese.

Catupiry, the trademarked brand that is, was developed in 1911 by  Mário e Isaíra Silvestrini, an Italian immigrant couple, in Lambari, Minas Gerais. They chose the name Catupiry because it means "excellent" in the Tupi-Guarani language of certain Brazilian Indian tribes. In 1934 production was moved to the city of São Paulo. Up to the present the exact recipe for Catupiry has remained a secret, though it is clear that Catupiry cheese is a processed cheese, like all cream cheeses.

Catupiry was traditionally packaged in round, wooden boxes, very similar to the boxes in which one buys Brie or Camembert cheese, but in the 1990s the wooden box was replaced by plastic, and today Catupiry is available not only in these plastic boxes, but in everything from squeeze tubes to gallon buckets.

Although a commercial product, Catupiry has been taken to heart by the Brazilian public, and a dish or recipe that contains Catupiry has a certain cachet that other cream cheeses can't duplicate. São Paulo, which considers its pizzas better than anywhere else in the world, considers "pizza ao catupiry" one of the summits of the pizza-making art.

Monday, April 26, 2010

RECIPE - Dona Flor's Moqueca de Siri-Mole

Dona Flor is one of the most beloved heroines in all of Brazilian literature, and came to life through the pen of Jorge Amado in his 1966 novel, Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Amado is probably the best-known contemporary Brazilian author of fiction, and his novels are read around the world. Dona Flor has been translated into over forty languages, and many non-readers know her through the brilliant film of the same name, directed by Bruno Barreto and released in 1976. The beautiful Brazilian actress Sonia Braga became a world-wide star by her sensitive and extremely sensual portrayal of Dona Flor.

In the novel, which is set in Salvador, Bahia in the 1940s, Dona Flor is the owner of a cooking school, called Flavor and Art Culinary School. Though the product of a strict, Catholic middle-class upbringing, she has scandalized her family and friends by marrying a local reprobate gambler and womanizer, Vadinho, with whom she is passionately in love. The novel begins with Vadinho's death, early one drunken morning of Carnaval, which leaves Dona Flor a heartbroken widow in her mid-twenties. Forced to support herself, and to pay off her beloved Vadinho's gambling debts she throws herself into her work at the cooking school.

In the novel, each section is opened by a recipe written by Dona Flor, or by a lesson from one of her cooking classes. The recipe that follows is for Moqueca de Siri-Mole and it combines a very usable recipe for this traditional soft-shelled crab dish from Bahia with Flor's pain-ridden memories of cooking this dish for Vadinho. I have translated the text from Amado's original Portuguese.

To read the recipe, just click on "read more" below.

Siri and Siri-Mole

Brazilians love crustaceans - that is to say Brazilians love to eat crustaceans, though perhaps some Brazilians love crustaceans in and of themselves. Shrimp, langostines, crawfish, lobsters and numerous types of crabs fill restaurant menus and are enjoyed everywhere in Brazil, not just along the coast.

 Some varieties of crustacean are found in great parts of Brazil, but others are quite local (click here to read about the aratu, a species of crab). Along Brazil's northeast coast, one of the most highly valued and sought-after species of crab goes under the name of siri, and in particular Brazilians love to eat it as siri-mole. The siris are a family of crabs (genus Callinectes) which is distinguished by their oar-shaped hind legs, which make them excellent swimmers. In fact, the usual term in English for the siri is "swimming crab". The most well-known swimming crab in the USA is the famous blue crab of the Chesapeake Bay on the mid-Atlantic coast.

Like all crustaceans, the siri must periodically shed its hard shell in order to grow. Human gastronomes have discovered that this little creature is particularly delicious just after it has molted - that is, shed it's shell - and before a new shell has had time to harden. In English, during this vulnerable time these crabs are called "soft-shelled crabs", and in Brazil, "siri-mole" which merely means "soft siri."

In this soft, shell-less state, Brazilians enjoy siri-mole simply fried, cooked in a soup or stew, or most of all, turned into a moqueca de siri-mole - a typical dish from Bahia which employs the iconic Bahian flavoring ingredients coconut milk and dendê oil.

In the next post, I'll provide a very "literary" recipe for moqueca de siri-mole, from one of Brazil's most famous authors.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

RECIPE - Fish a Delicia (Peixe Delícia)

This traditional recipe from the state of Ceará, on Brazil's northeast coast, combines local fish fillets with plantains (banana-da-terra) in a cheesy white sauce to provide a delicious (hence the name "Delícia") and rich main course, served traditionally with white rice.

The fish that's used most commonly locally is black grouper (sirigado), but this dish works equally with with any with other white-fleshed fish such as snapper, halibut or sablefish. Plantains are increasingly available in supermarkets in North American metropolitan areas, and can also be found in Latin and Asian markets in larger cities.

As they say here in Brasil: "é uma delícia!" (It's delicious!)
RECIPE - Fish a Delicia (Peixe Delícia)
Serves 2

1 pound (500 gr.) black grouper (sirigado) or other firm-fleshed fish fillets
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium plantains, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp. butter
2 cups bechamel sauce (click here for instructions)
1/4 lb. (100 gr.) thinly sliced mozzarella cheese (pizza-style, not fresh)
2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese
Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat, then saute the fillets until cooked and tender. Do not let them overcook, or they will flake and fall apart. Reserve. In another  medium frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat, add the plantain slices and fry until the plantain is cooked and the slices are nicely browned.

In a ceramic or glass baking/serving dish, cover the bottom with plantain slices. Use 1 cup of bechamel to cover the plantain. Add the fish fillets in one layer, then cover with the remaining cup bechamel. Finish with a layer of mozzarella slices sprinkled with parmesan. Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Serve immediately, accompanied by white rice.

Recipe adapted and translated from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

INGREDIENTS - Plantain (Banana-da-Terra)

The "vegetable-banana" known in English as a plantain is a common ingredient in Brazilian cooking, and it's called "banana-da-terra" (banana of the earth) in Portuguese. Plantains differ from the more common fruit- or dessert-bananas in that they have more starch and less sugar and must be cooked before being consumed. Unlike fruit-bananas, plantains are usually eaten in a relatively unripe state, and it's for this reason they must be cooked to be eatable.

The plantain (Musa paradisiaca), like all bananas is native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Oceania, and was brought to Brazil by Portuguese explorers and clerics. It, along with its sweeter cousins, has been wholeheartedly adapted to Brazilian soil, and adopted by the Brazilian palate.

See the following post for a delicious recipe for fish with plantain that it especially popular here in Fortaleza. It's a standout.

Friday, April 23, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Achiote or Annatto (Urucum)

If Brazilian cuisine has a characteristic color, it is a bright, warm, reddish-orange. From north to south  in Brazil, dishes arrive at the table bursting with this appetizing color, which identifies the dish as traditionally Brazilian. This vivid color is obtained primarily from one of two ingredients -  the palm oil known as dendê, which is predominant in the African-influenced foods of Bahia (click here to read about dendê), or a natural, seed-derived coloring agent called urucum in Portuguese, but which is better known in North America as either achiote or annatto. Urucum is added to soups, stews, and other dishes when the cook desires the red-orange color it imparts, but does not want to add an additional flavor to the dish. Dendê is as strongly-flavored as it is highly-colored, and because of this, is not appropriate to add to a dish merely to color it. It will dramatically change the flavor profile. Urucum, on the other hand, has minimal flavor, and can be added to almost any dish without changing the flavor.

The Portuguese word urucum comes from the native Indian language Tupi - "uru-ku" meaning red. Urucum is harvested from a large tree native to the Amazonian rain forest (Bixa orellana), and was used by the Indians of Brazil long before the arrival of Europeans on these shores. Indians still living in the rain forest use urucum not only to color their foods, but also to color their bodies and hair. Rubbing urucum into the skin not only stains it a bright orange, but provides protection against insect bites and the rays of the sun. After repeated applications of urucum, it penetrates the skin and becomes impermeable.

Urucum trees grow tall in the rain forest, and the seed pods are covered with extremely sharp spines. Inside the pod are twenty or so small red seeds which are ground into a powder to make urucum. Commercially, the powder is sold in supermarkets and shops as it comes from the mill, but urucum is also available in the form of an oil which has been heated with urucum seeds in it, and sold with the seeds removed. Either way, it will add color and life to any dish. Urucum is commercially used in huge numbers of produced and prepared foods for its color, since it is a natural food and safe to eat. It is used in preference to chemical red dyes, both because of its safety and because consumers are aware of the dangers of chemical food colors and many avoid buying foods that contain them.  One of the most common uses of urucum worldwide is to give cheddar or cheddar-style cheeses their orange color.

In future posts, I'll be providing recipes that call for the use of urucum. Under the name aciote or annatto, the powder is easily found in ethnic markets in North America that cater to Caribbean, Mexican and other Latin American communities.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

UTENSILS - Clay cookware from Goabeiras

The Goabeiras neighborhood of Vítoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, is home to a tradtional style of production of unglazed ceramic cookware, known in Portuguese as "Paneleiras de Goiabeiras." In small workshops and factories, artisans create beautiful, yet utilitarian, cookware using techniques originated by Brazil's Indian population long before the European colonization of Brazil began in 1500. Unglazed bowls, platters, plates and cups are molded by hand, without the use of a wheel, using clay which comes from the nearby Vale do Mulembá. Once formed, the greenware is left to dry in the direct sun, and then fired over open fires rather than in a kiln. After firing, the pieces of cookware are impregnated with tannin, which protects and seals the unglazed ceramics, and which provides the lustrous black finish characteristic of "Goiabeiras" ware. The finished product can be used as a cooking vessel, or as serving ware.

The video below from YouTube shows the entire process of production, and was made by the local ceramics cooperative. Traditionally, Goiabeiras ware was made by women at home, but now both men and women make the bowls and plates, and production is in small workshops supported by the cooperative.

In earlier posts I discussed how certain traditional and artisanal techniques have been recognized by IPHAN, Brazil's National Institution of Historical and Artistic Patrimony as "immaterial national treasures." The traditional practice of selling acarajé on the streets of Salvador was covered in this post. IPHAN  bestowed the same recognition as "national treasure" to the clayware of Goiabeiras in 2002 to ensure that this technique and style which dates back well over a thousand years is protected and preserved, and to honor those who carry on the traditions that their ancestors have passed on from generation to generation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

RECIPE - Fried Shrimp Meaipe (Camarão Frito à Meaípe)

There is a tremendous variety of shrimp available to purchase in markets, or to order in restaurants in Brazil. Large, small - farmed, wild - grey, pink - all possible types of shrimp are at hand at any time or any place. If one is speaking of the smaller varieties of shrimp (up to about 2 inches (4 cm.), head included), most times the shrimp will be sold and also served unshelled, with head attached. I've often seen the surprised/shocked look on the face of foreigners in Brazil restaurants when the waiter arrives with a platter of such shrimp served "au naturel".

These small shrimp are not only bought and served un-decapitated and in the shell, there are usually eaten that way, particularly with fried shrimp. Some Brazilians will remove the head before ingesting the shrimp, but just as many will not. Almost no one bothers to peel them - they are popped into the mouth and crunched up whole before swallowing. It is a cultural thing, of course, but many foreigner visitors to Brazil are reticent to try eating shrimp this way. Those that summon up the courage often find that shrimps eaten in the shell have much more flavor than their "nude" cousins, and that the shells of small shrimps are soft enough that chewing them is no problem.

If you haven't experienced shrimp this way, here's an easy recipe from Meaípe beach in the state of Espírito Santo. Just be sure to buy fresh whole shrimp, wild if possible, and make sure they are no bigger than about 1.5 to 2 inches head to tail. They make a great bar snack with drinks, hors d'ouevres, first course, or a light lunch.
RECIPE - Fried Shrimp Meaipe (Camarão Frito à Meaípe)
Serves 2

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 pound (250 gr.) small shrimp, unpeeled but without heads- or 1 lb. (500 gr.) small shrimp, unpeeled, with heads attached
1 cup neutral vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
lime wedges
Put the flour in a large brown-paper bag, season with salt and pepper, then toss shrimp in the flour mixture.
Shake the shrimp to remove excess flour. Reserve on large plate or platter.
Heat oil in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.
Add shrimp, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, and fry until golden and crisp (approximately 3 minutes).
Drain shrimp on paper towels, test for salt, and then serve immediately with wedges of fresh lime.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cilantro (Coentro) - The Love-It-or-Hate-It Herb

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Julia Child was one of those many, many people who cannot abide the taste of fresh coriander (also known as cilantro). In 2002, she was a guest on Larry King's show, and during his interview he asked her if she liked cilantro, and if she would ever order it. Her typically Julia-esque reply was "Never. I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor." The NYT article, written by food scientist Harold McGee, goes on to explain exactly what it is, chemically, about this herb that causes people to be so passionate about it - either adoring or despising it. It's a fascinating read.

Certainly, most Brazilians who live along the lengthy Atlantic coast of Brazil from the state of Espírito Santo north all the way to tiny, remote Oiapoque on the border of French Guiana are passionate about cilantro (which is called coentro in Portuguese) and they're definitely in the "Yes, Please!!" camp. It is culinarily the most important green herb in all the various regional cuisines along the coast. In particular, the pairing of fish and seafood with cilantro is nearly universal in the coastal state of Northeast Brazil.

Cilantro is not native to Brazil, and was unknown to the country's inhabitants prior to the arrival of European explorers in 1500. The plant originated in the Middle East and southern/Mediterranean Europe, and became an important part of Portuguese cuisine in the early middle ages, perhaps brought there by the Moors during the period of their occupation. The Portuguese, in turn, carried it across the South Atlantic to their colonies in Brazil, where it flourished, and where it flourishes today.

Interestingly, one of the regional cuisines of Brazil that highly favors the use of cilantro is the cuisine of Bahia, which is based to a high degree on African roots and influences. Although it seems that cilantro was unknown in Africa at the time of slavery, once in the New World, Brazil's slaves made it an essential ingredient in the marvelous variety of dishes that constitute Bahian food.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

FAQ - What's a "caipirinha" (besides a cocktail)?

Worldwide, "caipirinha" is probably one of the most well-known words of Brazilian Portuguese, right up there with "bossa nova", "samba" and "futebol". But what does it mean, exactly, other than being the name of a absolutely delicious cocktail?

The word "caipirinha" is the diminuitive form of the word "caipira". Brazilian Portuguese uses many diminuitives, generally in a friendly and affectionate way (sort of like calling your partner or spouse "baby"). The word caipira refers to a person from the backcountry, someone who isn't citified or sophisticated. The best translation in English is "hillbilly" or "hick". So a caipirinha is, in effect, a "little hillbilly".

Today the word is used so much more with the sense of the cocktail, that probably very few Brazilians even pause to think that they're ordering a "little hillbilly" when they ask the waiter for a caipirinha. They just want to get their hands on a nice cold drink!

RECIPE - Caipirinha (The Classic Recipe)

In the interests of complying with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture (click here to read what the Ministry has to do with a caipirinha recipe), here is the recipe for a classic caipirinha. Be sure to use good-sized, sturdy old-fashioned glassed, and clear, cubed ice. Shaved or crushed ice is a crime, and a blended caipirinha approaches a capital crime, or would if Brazil had capital punishment. Also, this drink is best made one drink at a time, in the glass in which it will be served. There is no such thing as a pitcher of caipirinhas.

RECIPE - Caipirinha (The Classic Recipe)
Makes 1 drink

2 tsp. granulated sugar (may be decreased to as little as 1 tsp. or increased to 3 tsp., to taste)
8 wedges of lime, including skin
2.5 oz. (75 ml) cachaça

Muddle the sugar and the limes in an old-fashioned glass. (You can use the handle end of a wooden spoon if you don't have a muddler. Or you can use a non-porous pestle of any material.)
Fill the glace with fresh, cubed ice.
Pour the cachaça into the glass, stir well.

Finally, do as the Brazilians do - lift your glass to your drinking companions, look everyone who is toasting in the eye, and say "saúde! (It means "health" and it's pronounced sa-OO-gee). Be sure to take a drink after toasting, as placing the glass on the table before sipping is a serious breach of toasting protocol.


Friday, April 16, 2010

How To Make a Caipirinha (Legally)

Once again I've come across an example of governmental bureaucracy gone wild, this time courtesy of a blog called Cachaçagora (You can find a link to it in the right column of this blog, under "My Blog List). As if there were not more pressing matters do be dealt with, Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture decided back in 2008 to publish a decree as to what gave a cocktail the right to call itself a caipirinha.

Brazil's national drink has a long history, and a very simple basic recipe with only three ingredients - cachaça, sugar and limes. Over the course of the years, numerous variations have appeared, some with new names, and some using the name caipirinha. It appears the Ministry of Agriculture has no problem with the caipiroska, which substitutes vodka for the cachaça, or with the caipirissima, which replaces the cachaça with rum, but they really don't like it when somebody makes a lemon caipirinha, or a strawberry caipirinha, or a whisky caipirinha.

Consequently, the Ministry published the following decree in its official gazette to help those who want to make a caipirinha, but somehow err along the way.

Article 1 - The object of this Technical Regulation is to establish the standards of identity and quality which a caipirinha must obey.
Article 2 - This Technical Regulation both to any caipirinha sold in the national territory, as well as any sold outside Brazil.
Article 3 - The caipirinha is a typical Brazilian drink, with alcoholic strength between fifteen and thirty-six percent by volume at 20 degrees Celsius, made with cachaça, lime and sugar, to which water may be added to standardize the alcoholic strength, and additives. A drink made according to these standards and prepared by a technical process appropriate to ensure its presentation and conservation until the time of consumption  shall be called a caipirinha.
Article 4 - The ingredients used in the preparation of a caipirinha are:
a) - basic ingredients - cachaça, lime and sugar.
1. The permissible sugar is sucrose - granulated or refined sugar - which can be partially or completely substituted by inverted sugar and glucose, in quantity not superior to 150 grams per liter and not inferior to 10 grams per liter. Substitution by by artificial or other natural sweeteners is not permitted.
2. The utilized lime may be in a dehydrated form and must be present in a minimum proportion of 1% lime juice and 5% citric acid, expressed in grams per hundred grams.
b) - optional ingredient - the water used must obey the norms and standards approved by legislation for drinking water, and must be conditioned, exclusively, on the standardization of the alcoholic strength of the final product.
Article 5 - the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages used in the preparation of a caipirinha must adhere to their own standards of identity and quality as defined by the appropriate legislation, if it exists.

Whew! What a bunch of overblown language, resulting in absolutely no clear idea of what a caipirinha is or how to make one. I'm not going to bother with helping readers of Flavors of Brazil any further as to what a caipirinha is, but in the next post, I'll provide the classic recipe for a caipirinha. From that point on, you can make one yourself. Once you've tasted a true caipirinha, you'll have no problem identifying one from that point on - even if you forget to bring your "Technical Regulation for Standards of Identity and Quality" along with you to the bar.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Everything You Wanted To Know About Cachaça But Were Afraid To Ask

In recent years, the fame of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha, has spread beyond the borders of the country, and these days caipirinhas are available in bars and restaurants from Miami to Montreal to Mumbai to Munich. And with the increasing international popularity of this cocktail, the export market for the Brazilian liquor, cachaça, which is the base of the drink, has increased dramatically. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was virtually impossible to find cachaça outside Brazil. Today it's available in better liquor stores world wide (though often at prices that are many times the domestic Brazilian price).

The domestic market for cachaça is still many times larger than the export market, but much of the growth of the total market is in exports. And there's still a lot of room for growth there. According to 2007 figures, domestic consumption of cachaça in Brazil was 1.5 billion liters (390 million gallons). The same year international consumption was 15 million liters (4 million gallons). That's to say that 99% of worldwide consumption of cachaça occurs in Brazil, and the rest of the world consumes 1%.

Cachaça (also known in Brazil as aguardente, pinga, and caninha among other names) is legally defined by the Brazilian legislature as "the typical and  exclusive denomination of the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, produced in Brazil, with alcoholic strength anywhere from 38% to 80%. at 20 degrees Celsius." What distinguishes cachaça from rum, which is also a distillation of a sugar product, is that rum is distilled from molasses and cachaça is distilled directly from unrefined sugarcane juice.

Just like rums, there are two basic types of cachaça. There are those that have not been aged after distillation, or have been aged for a short time in steel vats. These cachaças are colorless liquids, tend to be less expensive, lighter in flavor, and are most commonly used in cocktails like the caipirinha. The other type of cachaça is those that have been aged in wood. They range in color from light blond to dark brown, are more expensive and flavorful, and are meant for sipping, like whisky, although the lighter aged cachaças are often used to make caipirinhas.

Brazilian cachaças, of which there are thousands, are divided into two basic groups - artisanal and industrial. There are many small cachaça producers scattered everywhere in Brazil, making limited quantities of cachaça for mostly local distribution, and some of these are very good indeed, and valued by connoisseurs of cachaça. However, the great majority of cachaça production comes from the huge industrial producers, such as Ypioca, Pitú,  Sagatiba and 51.

In Brazil, there are cachaças for every occasion and every demographic. The most basic cachaças are very cheap, and a 32 oz. (1 liter) bottle sells in corner stores and supermarkets for 3 to 4 reais (approximately USD $1.80 to $2.50). On the other hand, an aged cachaça from a small, artisanal distillery may cost $R100 (USD $55.00). Incidentally, those bottles of cachaça that North Americans and Europeans find in their markets for $55 are not those that cost $55 in Brazil, they are those that cost $2.00 in Brazil!

In upcoming posts, I'll provide the recipe for some delicious cachaça cocktails, and reviews of specific brands. Bottoms up!

(For a very informative and ientertaining blog on all things cachaça, check out Cachaçagora, written by a Chicago cachaçophile).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RECIPE - Aratu Frittata (Fritada de Aratu)

If you've read the previous two posts, you'll know that it's unlikely that you'll find aratu (a small fresh water crab) in your local fish market. This is a traditional recipe, however, for this very traditional food. It can also be made with any other type of fresh, picked-over crab meat.
RECIPE - Aratu Frittata (Fritada de Aratu)
Serves 3

1/2 pound (250 gr.) fresh aratu or other crab meat, picked over and cleaned
Juice of one lime
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
Chopped cilantro to taste
salt to taste
3 large free-range eggs, separated
2 Tbsp. white all-purpose flour
1 cup pitted green olives, chopped
In a medium bowl, place the crab meat, and then pour the lime juice over, mixing well. Drain the crab meat, and then add to a heavy oven-proof frying pan along with the olive oil, onion and garlic. Fry until onion and garlic are transparent, but not browned. Add the red pepper, the cilantro and salt. Continue to cook until all liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, and reserve in pan.

 In a small bowl beat the egg white until fluffy and light. Add the yolks and flour and mix lightly but well.

Off heat, add half the egg mixture to the crab meat in the pan, mixing it in well. Sprinkle olives on top, and then pour the other half of the egg mixture on top. Put in preheated 400F oven (200C) for 5 minutes, or until eggs are cooked and top of frittata is lightly browned. Serve immediately from pan.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Saving the Aratu (Part 2) - How the Presidium Works

In my previous post, I detailed the worldwide work of the Slow Food Presidia in protecting and preserving traditional food communities. The following text, translated from the Slow Food Brasil website, shows how one particular food community has been sheltered and strengthened by a Slow Food Presidium, and how the species of animal that is the community's focus, a small crab known as the aratu, has been given a new lease on life.
(Click on "read more" for the story of the Slow Food Aratu Presidium)

Saving the Aratu (Part 1) - A Slow Food Brazil Presidium

Among the many projects of the international Slow Food movement is an international system of groups supporting the preservation of traditional foods, food sources and food communities. These groups are called Presidia (in the singular, Presidium). Interestingly the Portuguese translation for Presidium is Fortaleza, the name of the city in which I live. As defined on the international website of Slow Food, the purpose of the Slow Food presidia is to:
sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties. The Presidia directly involve producers, offer technical assistance to improve production quality, organize exchanges among different countries, provide new market outlets (both locally and internationally).

These complex projects contribute enormously to the preservation of uniquely local foods, food products and lifestyles. Without the support of a Presidium in creating a sustainable food community and a market in which it can sell its products for a fair price, many traditional foods would have already disappeared and many more would be on the road to extinction.

There are currently 7 Slow Food Presidia in Brazil, and in the next while Flavors of Brazil will be highlighting all of them. As the products involved are very local, and their markets are often restricted, it's unlikely that readers of this blog from outside Brazil will be able to buy the products themselves. But if any of the readers of this blog feel they'd like to support Slow Food internationally or in their own country, it's easily done either at the international Slow Food website, or their own country's Slow Food site.

In the next post, I'll explain exactly how one particular Presidium, that of the aratu, works, and then following, I'll add a traditional recipe for cooking this delicate crustacean.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

RECIPE - Salmon with Mango Sauce (Salmão com Manga)

In recent years, Brazilians have developed a taste for salmon. Being a cold-water fish, salmon is not found in Brazilian waters, so all the salmon is imported. Most of it, if not all, is farmed salmon imported from Chile. I've not seen anything yet in the Brazilian press about the dangers of aquaculture of salmon, though I'm well familiar with the issues from the many years I lived in British Columbia.

Much of the imported salmon in Brazil goes into the making of sushi, for which Brazilians have an enormous appetite. But fillets and steaks are also available fresh or frozen in supermarkets, and the fish often appears on restaurant menus.

Here's a recipe for salmon in a mango sauce from the state of Espírito Santo. It's easy to make, and with luck, you'll be able to find wild salmon for a much improved flavor and sustainability profile for the recipe. The sauce, by the way, is entirely Brazilian in inspiration and goes equally well with any number of other species of fish.
RECIPE - Salmon with Mango Sauce
Serves 4

2 lbs. (1 kg.) salmon fillet, preferably wild salmon, cut into four serving pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. green onion, green part only, finely chopped
2 large mangoes, peeled and the flesh cubed
Juice of 4 medium oranges

Place the salmon fillets in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
In a large heavy frying pan melt the butter in the white wine. When butter is melted, remove from heat, add the parsley and green onion and lightly mix.
Put the fish fillets in a square or rectangular baking dish just large enough to hold them. Pour the butter or wine mixture over the fish, then half the orange juice. Place the cubed mango on the fillets, covering them as much as possible, and then pour the remaining orange juice over the cubes.
Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, then place it in a pre-heated medium oven 325F (160C) for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, then continue cooking for 5 more minutes or until the mango is lightly browned and the fish is cooked.
Serve immediately with white rice.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora

Monday, April 12, 2010

PRODUCTS - Frozen Fruit Pulp

Even in Brazil, the land of a thousand fruits, it's not practicable or even possible to have juice made from fresh fruits at all times and in all places. Fruits have seasons (even if the tropics themselves don't), and there are times when a particular fresh fruit is just not available.

Unfortunately, most prepared fruit juices in Brazil, the type you buy in the supermarket and store in the refrigerator, are highly processed and contain huge quantities of sugar. Even the orange juice that comes in a carton is sweetened!

There is a solution to this problem, however, and one which I wish would be adopted outside Brazil. The freezer section of all supermarkets has a selection of frozen fruit pulp, in a variety of flavors, which can easily be turned into delicious juice at home. The pulp is generally sold in units of 100 gr. To make juice, all one needs is a blender. Combine one package of pulp plus 400 ml. of water in a blender, blend at high speed, and you instantly have about 500 ml. of icy -cold, flavorful juice.

Pulp sold this way is pure fruit pulp, pasteurized, without preservatives or added sugar. Naturally, depending on the fruit, some sugar might have to be added to make the juice palatable, but the amount of sugar can be controlled depending on one's taste and/or dietary restrictions.

The variety of pulps available is enormous. Checking on the website of one of the major producers of these pulps, they list 13 varieties available pineapple (abacaxi), acerolaaçaí, cacau, cashew (caju), cupuaçu, guava (goiaba), soursop (graviola), papaya (mamão), mango (manga), passion fruit (maracujá), strawberry (morango) and grape (uva).

I'm rarely without a dozen or so packages in my freezer, and a glass of juice prepared from this frozen fruit pulp is my daily eye-opener.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

RECIPE - Oven-roasted robalo (snook)

One of the simplest ways to cook fish fillets of any type is to quickly roast them in the oven, flavoring them with wine, oil, tomatoes, onions and herbs. Here's a recipe for the Brazilian fish robalo that can be adapted to most any other type of fish fillet.
RECIPE - Oven-roasted robalo (snook)
Serves 4

1 medium-sized robalo fillets (or substitute other fish fillets)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 dry white wine
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano (or 2 tsp. fresh oregano)
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil for greasing baking dish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Lightly grease a glass or ceramic rectangular baking dish with extra-virgin olive oil. Mix the garlic and chopped rosemary leaves in a small bowl, then add the white wine and olive oil. Stir briskly or whisk with a small whisk. Reserve.

Arrange the fish fillets in the greased baking pan, and cover them with slices of tomato and onion, alternating them. Sprinkle the oregano over the vegetables, and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the wine-oil mixture over the fish and vegetables. Place in oven for 15-25 minutes, or until the fish is tender and cooked, but not flaky or dried out.

Remove from oven and serve immediately, putting each fillet on a place with tomato and onion slices on top.

Robalo - Difficulties with Taxonomy and Linguistics

A while back, I published here on Flavors of Brazil a couple of postings about one of my favorite eating fishes here in Fortaleza, the sirigado. In researching this fish, my initial problem was the determination of exactly what a sirigado was. To briefly summarize, the sirigado is also known in some regions of Brazil as badejo, and in English it is known primarily as black grouper (although it is also alternatively known as the black rockfish.)

This Tower of Babel confusion of common names for comestible fish seems to be almost universal, and the more research I've done for this blog, the more complex it becomes. No matter what the language, or how big the geographical area of distribution of a particular fish, there will be competing regional and national names for it. If each species of fish were restricted to one scientific name of genus and species, plus one common name per language, it would be simple to cross-identify species. However, reality has nothing to do with this perfect solution and most species have many, many names.

The fish I wanted to write about in this post is a perfect example. In supermarkets and at the local fish market in Fortaleza, one of the most commonly available fish year-round is called robalo. It's relative inexpensive, and its fillets are wonderful simply pan-fried or oven-roasted with tomatoes, onions and potato slices. It was fairly easy to identify robalo as Centropomus pectinatus, which is found all along the western coastline of the Americas from the southern USA to Brazil. From there the waters became a bit more murky. It appears that in the northeast of Brazil, where Fortaleza is located, this fish is also known as camorim-sovela. OK, two names locally, not to difficult to handle. However in other parts of Brazil, it's known by such names as rubalo, robalo flexa, just plain flexa, robalo peva and robalão. Plus barriga mole (soft tummy) or furão. Plus all the variations on camorim: camurim, camury, camorim açu, camurim açu, camury açu. Plus others I'm sure exist but which I haven't tracked down yet.

With the help of the scientific name, tracking the name(s) in English is easy. We're talking about our friend the snook (which are also sometimes called robalo in English too). There are at least twelve members of the snook family which are commercially or sport-fished, but at least in English they're all called snooks. There are the Armed, Swordspined, Blackfin, Guinian, Black, Fat, Tarpon, Mexican, Yellowfin, Common, Union and White Snooks to be fished and eaten in various parts of the globe.

In the next post, I'll provide a simple recipe for oven-roasted robalo (or camorim, or flexa, or Tarpon snook, or Swordspined snook, etc.) Whatever you call it, it'll be delicious, I promise. As for me, I think I'm going to start calling it "soft tummy" from here on in.

Friday, April 9, 2010

So Why Is It Called Green Corn? (Milho Verde)

The eating corn that those in North America call sweet corn, or even corn-on-the-cob corn, is known in Brazil as milho verde, which translates into English as Green Corn. Granted the husks are green, but when it's cooked and ready to eat there's very little green to be seen - if they called it milho amarelo (yellow corn) I'd understand, but the green corn name stumps me. It also seems to stump all my Brazilians friends whom I've asked about this terminology. Nobody knows why it's milho verde, just that it IS milho verde.

Unlike in certain other parts of the world where eating fresh cord directly from the cob is considered something that only barnyard animals do, Brazilians share North Americans love of corn on the cob. It's considered more of a snack food or street food here than it is in North America, and it's not common to serve it as part of a meal in a home or restaurant. However, anywhere there's a crowd on the street, be it carnaval, a holiday festival, or just a park or seashore, you can be sure that there will be milho verde available from a number of vendors, selling the product from a cart or stall.

Most evenings, after the sun as set and it's a bit cooler, I walk along Fortaleza's seafront promenade, called Beira-Mar. Me and thousands of other people. It's a colorful scene of ordinary strollers, jogging athletes, skatboarders and roller-bladers, hucksters, and vendors of arts, crafts and food and drink. The most common food carts are those that sell acarajé, green coconut water, popcorn, french fries, and milho verde. The going price for a cob of corn is 1 real, which is approximately USD $0.50. Normally it is sold from a large cauldron of simmering water, placed in a clean and cut half-circle of corn husk, salted and butter, and is eaten on the run. Some vendors have a charcoal fire at one side of their cart, and will offer to grill the cob for you if you prefer it that way. A fresh, sweet ear of "milho verde" is satisfying without being too filling. Washed down with an icy beer, it makes the evening stroll just that much more pleasant.

Below are some photos of milho verde vendors and their carts, taken on Fortaleza's Beira-Mar.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Clarified Butter (Manteiga de Garrafa)

All aspects of a traditional cuisine are informed by the cultural landscape in which it develops. Ingredients, techniques, equipment used, food preservation, all depend on topography, climate, availability of water and many other cultural factors, even such unlikely ones such as language. This is precisely why no two traditional cuisines are exactly the same, as they do not have the same "genetic background."

Nonetheless, certain elements of many different traditional cuisines seem to pop up independently in cultures that are geographically worlds away, and with little communication or connection between them. For example, the custom of eating crispy-fried insects can be found in traditional cultures from Australia, to Thailand, to Brazil's Amazon rain forest. Such similarities are nothing surprising, as cultures might share available ingredients, or similar climates, without even knowing of each others existence. The need to turn available foods into something palatable is universal.

Brazil's semi-arid northeast (called the Nordeste in Brazil) is a hot, unforgiving landscape with scant vegetation and less water. It resembles parts of the plains of India in all of these aspects. Both areas are  centers of cattle ranching and inhabitants rely on dairy products as an essential part of their diet. Until recent times refrigeration was uncommon in either area, and so preservation of dairy products was a matter of importance. In addition to cheeses, interestingly, both areas developed similar techniques for preserving butter without refrigeration, by clarifying it to remove the milky solids, leaving behind only the dairy fat. The Indians know the resulting product as ghee, and in Brazil's Nordeste is it called either "manteiga de garrafa" (literally, butter in a bottle) ou "manteiga da terra (butter of the earth).

Today, many urban Brazilians in the Nordeste  but manteiga de garrafa not because they must, but because it's part of their traditional palette of flavors. It is an essential ingredient in many of the iconic dishes of this region, and its characteristic taste and smell instantly identify any dish in which is it used as coming from the Nordeste. It seems that the product is virtually unknown outside this region of Brazil, and its availability of limited in other parts of the country.

Today, manteiga de garrafa is available in all local food shops and supermarkets in the urban centers of the Nordeste, but many people still prefer to buy it from roadside stands in the countryside, claiming that the taste is more authentic. Manteiga de garrafa is strongly flavored, and for some it's definitely an acquired taste - it has a strong barnyard aroma, with buttery and even cheesy dairy flavors predominating.

Like butter or cheese almost anywhere in the world, manteiga de garrafa is not something that many people make at home, although recipes for homemade manteiga de garrafa do exist. But most kitchens in Brazil's Nordeset have a bottle of it in the pantry or on a shelf. It lasts forever at room temperature, and when needed, it gives that "down-home" flavor that people everywhere crave.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

RECIPE - Coconut Rice (Arroz de Coco)

This simple dish from the Brazilian state of Bahia makes a wonderful accompaniment to the various fish and seafood dishes that originate from there, but can also be successfully be served with almost any Brazilian seafood dish, or even with Thai curries or Polynesian dishes. The coconut milk gives a silky smoothness to the texture of the rice, as well as a sweetness to the grain that perfectly complements spicy dishes. Since Bahian food is known as the spiciest regional cuisine in Brazilian gastronomy, it makes sense that the dish originated in Bahian kitchens.
RECIPE - Coconut Rice (Arroz de Coco)
Serves 4 as a side dish

2 cups long-grain white rice (Thai jasmine rice is an excellent choice)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped white onion
1 cup grated, unsweetened coconut
1 cup canned milk (thick homemade coconut milk may be substituted)
2 cups water
1 Tbsp. finely chopped green onions (green part only)
salt to taste
Wash the rice in cold running water until water runs clear. In a medium heavy saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter, then fry the garlic and chopped white onion until transparent, but uncolored. Stir in the rice, the grated coconut, salt to taste, the coconut milk and the water. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, lower heat and cook until liquid is dissolved and rice is tender, approximately 20 minutes. Let rest in pan, tightly covered for 10 minutes (can let rest for up to 30 minutes).

Fluff the rice with a fork, and place in serving plate or dish. Sprinkle with the chopped green onion and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora