Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brazil's Own Blue Plate Special - O Prato Feito

According to, a blue plate special can be defined as "a specially priced main course, as of meat and vegetables, listed as an item on a menu, especially in an inexpensive restaurant." The word has long been part of the jargon of American lunch-restaurants and diners, along with such gems as "Adam and Eve on a raft" for two poached eggs on toast, and "whistle berries" for baked beans. No one is really sure where the phrase originated but it has been found in the New York Times as far back as 1926, and by 1945 was already in the Oxford English Dictionary .

Brazilians are certainly familiar with the concept of the blue plate special, if not the name. In cities everywhere in Brazil, as soon as the noon-hour approaches thousands of blue- and white-color workers leave their posts and head for a nearby restaurant for a meal, usually the main meal of their day. CEOs and executives might dine in luxury at expense-account restaurants, but the vast majority of Brazilian dine at simple, economic restaurants that serve a decent meal at a decent price and not much more. Most of these restaurants serve something called a prato feito (often abbreviated to PF on menus and signboards) and in restaurants where PF is on the menu, it's likely to be the most popular choice day in and day out. It's Brazil's blue plate special. The literal translation of prato feito would be "composed plate", and for a Brazilian it means a plate including rice, beans, french fries, some sort of protein (beef, chicken, fish), a fried egg and salada. Salada is usually just a leaf of lettuce with a slice or two of tomato on top. a PF is heavy on carbohydrates and protein and noticeably lacking in greens or vegetables. When well made, though, it's tasty, filling and cheap. 

Because many restaurants host the same clientele every workday, or at least several times during the week, most restaurants have a weekly schedule of pratos feitos - the accompaniments don't vary, but the main protein does. Monday may be beefsteak, Tuesday fried chicken, Friday fish, etc. The price doesn't change from day to day, but there's just enough variety to avoid complete monotony in the PF.

If you're ever in the commercial center of a Brazilian city during lunch time, you should try a PF at least once. Look for a restaurant that looks respectably clean and orderly, but nothing fancy. Check for prato feito or PF on the signboard in front of the restaurant, and most importantly, look for a restaurant that is busy and with a steady turn-over. Your PF might not be the gourmet meal of your dreams, but it will be satisfying and tasty.  And it's an essential part of a Brazilian culinary adventure.

(The Brazilian pronunciation of prato feito is something like PRAH-too FAY-too. Or you can simply order one by saying the letters PF, pronounced in Portugues PAY EFFEE.) 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RECIPE - Grilled Escalope of Namorado (Escalope de Namorado Grelhado)

Namorado (Brazil's "boyfriend" fish) can be successfully cooked in many different ways, and takes to a large number of different saucing treatments. Like sole, halibut and dorado, similar mild-flavored white-fleshed fish, the fact that the fish doesn't have an assertive flavor profile means that the sauce, with its own ingredients and flavor, can step forward into the limelight without seeming to upstage the fish.

A good example is this recipe for grilled namorado escalopes served in a intensely-flavored sauce of leeks, bacon and mushrooms with white wine, butter and cream. Of a distinctly classical French inspiration - obvious from the list of ingredients - this elegant dish would make a superb main course at an intimate dinner party, or even a dinner for two.

The original recipe, from the Brazilian TV network GNT, calls for namorado. As mentioned in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil this fish, called sandperch in English, isn't likely to be available at North American or European fishmongers. Please feel free to substitute any other white-fleshed fish of your choice.

Note: Escalope is the French word for a thick slice cut from a fillet of fish, weighing about 6 oz or 150 gr. You can ask your fishmonger to cut them for you, or cut them yourself from a while fillet, using a sharp knife. They should be cut from the thickest part of the fillet, and are usually about 3" wide more or less, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
RECIPE - Grilled Escalope of Namorado (Escalope de Namorado Grelhado)
Serves 4

4 namorado escalopes, or other white-fleshed fish (see note above about escalopes)
3 medium sized leeks, white parts only, thinly-sliced
3/4 lb (375 gr) fresh button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
4 oz (100 gr) slab bacon, about 1/4 inch thick, cut into small cubes
3 oz (80 gr) butter
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbsp finely chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion
2 cups (500 ml) light fish bouillon
6 oz (160 gr) butter, cut into small cubes, refrigerated
1/3 cup (80 ml) whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Cut the onion into quarters and combine with half of the white wine and half of the fish bouillon in a small sauce pan. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly to reduce the volume of liquid by 1/3. Remove from heat, discard the onion and reserve the liquid.

Heat a non-stick frying pan, drizzle a bit of olive oil. When the oil is hot briefly cook the fish escalopes on both sides, just until they begin to take color. Remove them from the heat and place in an oven-proof casserole dish. Top each escalope with a sprig of thyme. Pour half of the white wine and half of the fish bouillon around the fillets, but not over them.

Put the casserole dish in the preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove and reserve, keeping warm.

Melt 3 oz (80 gr) butter in a medium frying pan with a cover. Add the sliced leeks. Season with salt and pepper and a few thyme leaves. Toss well to coat the leeks with butter, then cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat until the leeks are softened. In another small frying pan, fry the bacon cubes until crispy, then add the mushroom quarters and cook until the mushrooms give up their juice.

Add the bacon and mushrooms to the softened leeks, then stir in the chopped chives. Cover and reserve.

Reheat the reduced wine/bouillon mixture. Stir in the cream and continue to heat just to the boiling point. Whisk in the cubes of cold butter, stirring vigorously and making sure each is melted before adding another. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble the dish: In a deep dinner plate place one quarter of the leek, bacon and mushroom mixture. Top with an escalope of fish. Divide the sauce among the four plates, pouring over all in the plate. Serve immediately.

Monday, August 29, 2011

FISH OF BRAZIL - Namorado (The Boyfriend Fish)

One of the most common deep-water fish in Brazil,  a fish called the namorado inhabits the waters off the entire 7500 miles of Brazilian coast from the border with French Guiana to the border with Uruguay. According to Babylon's Portuguese-English online dictionary the name namorado can be translated into English as "boyfriend, lover, sweetheart, sweetie, or honey". Whichever translation you choose, the fish bears a distinctly amorous moniker.
Namorado (the fish)
Namorado (Madonna's Brazilian ex-boyfriend)

We here at Flavors of Brazil have no idea why this fish, known in English by the relatively pedestrian-sounding name of sandperch, should have such a poetic name in Portuguese. In fact, we're a little nervous about making guesses, particularly about lonesome fishermen out at sea. Nonethless, namorado it is and it's a very popular eating fish in Brazil. The commercial namorado fishery is one of Brazil's largest, with the species accounting for just over 18% of Brazil's long-line catch. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the namorado fishery is sustainable at current levels, and the IUCN ranks the namorado fishery among those "of least concern."

The namorado's habitat is the sandy bottom of tropicals seas for there it can find its main sources of food, small crustaceans and fish. The namorado lives at great depths, normally around 500 feet (150 meters) but at times up to 1000 feet (300 meters). In these waters the fish can grow up to a length of 3 feet (1 meter) and weigh up to 30 lbs (15 kgs). This "boyfriend" is a well-built fellow, indeed.

In fish markets and supermarkets namorado is usually sold already filleted, with fillets being cut into smaller serving-size pieces. It can also be purchased as steaks. The flesh is light pink in color and the flavor is mild. Namorado can be oven-baked, pan-fried or deep fried, or cut into cubes and cooked in stews or soups. It can be used in almost any dish that calls for grouper, snapper halibut or dourado.

Because the fish is relatively abundant, it's among the least expensive of the white-fleshed fish, comparably priced to snapper or grouper. Because it's a sustainable fish as well, buying namorado in Brazil is a smart consumer's perfect option, economically, ecologically and gastronomically.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

RECIPE - Dog TV Chicken (Frango de TV de cachorro)

Granted that the name of this recipe somewhat less than enticing, for some reason particularly so in English. However, don't let the name put you off. As detailed in yesterday's post here on Flavors of Brazil, this recipe for seasoned, roasted chicken results in a wonderful moist bird with a crispy skin. The fanciful dog TV business is nothing more than a cute joke about the vertical rotisserie ovens used to cook the chicken in commercial establishments - there's not a television nor a canine in the ingredient list, we promise!

When I lived in Canada, we used to call these things "Safeway chickens", as in "I don't feel like cooking anything tonight, should we just pick up a Safeway chicken?" Even if it came from another supermarket chain or from a neighborhood deli it still was a Safeway chicken. But now that I've learned here in Brazil to call it dog TV chicken, I think I might start a campaign to use the same name in English.

One note about the recipe - it calls for the chicken to be cooked for a very long time at a low temperature in order to keep the bird moist while allowing time for the skin to crisp up. We've done quite a bit of internet research and it appears that the temperature and time specified in the recipe are sufficient to assure that all the surface bacteria are killed. If, however, you are nervous, you can start the cooking at a higher temperature (275F - 130C) for the first hour in order to kill off any bacteria, then reduce the heat (225F - 110C) for the remaining four hours. We've made this dish three or four times using the time and temperature specified in the recipe without unwanted results, but can't of course speak for all ovens, chickens and food sensitivities.
RECIPE - Dog TV Chicken (Frango de TV de cachorro)
Serves 4

2 tsp salt
2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, quartered
1 medium-sized chicken (2-3 lbs, 1-1.5 kgs)
(Optional step) One day before cooking, wash the chicken and dry thoroughly inside and out. Place on a plate and refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. This will partially dry out the skin which results in a crispier skin.

In the morning, mix all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. If you haven't already washed and dried the chicken do so now. Rub the spices into all the surfaces of the chicken, inside and out. Place the quartered onion in the cavity of the bird. Put the chicken in a large Ziploc-style bag, or loosely wrap with plastic film and return to refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Preheat oven to 250F (120C). Remove the chicken from the refrigeratore, put in a roasting pan and cook, uncovered, for five hours, or until the interior temperature of the meat reaches 185F (85C) when measured with a meat thermometer. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before carving.

Recipe translated and adapted from

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brazilian Gastronomic Expressions Pt. 2 - Frango de TV de cachorro

The Portuguese phrase "frango de TV de cachorro" is a common Brazilian way to describe a particular style of roast chicken, one that is loved by Brazilians and particularly associated with Sunday lunchtime, when untold millions of chickens are served up in this style throughout Brazil. The phrase itself means "dog TV chicken", a whimsical way to describe the cooking process.

So what's a "dog TV", then? And why would it be showing chickens? You'll need to click on the read more sign below if you want to see a photo of a dog TV and learn more about this dish.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

RECIPE - Shrimp with Chayote (Camarão com Chuchu)

Here in Brazil's north-east shrimp is so good and served so many different ways that it's difficult not to eat it every night of the week. It's also relatively inexpensive, especially by North American or European standards, so it's not out of the question here to buy the more-expensive sea-caught shrimps instead of the cultivated ones, even if most of those are sustainably farmed. The difference in taste is worth every centavo of the difference in price.

This easy recipe from the north-eastern state of Rio Grande do Norte was last night's dinner for us here at Flavors of Brazil and comes from a series of books on regional Brazilian cuisine called Cozinha Regional Brazileira, published by Abril Editora. It combined medium-sized shrimp with the mild-tasting but delectable vegetable known in Spanish as chayote, in English as christophene or vegetable pear, and in Cajun French as mirliton. Here is Brazil it bears the charming name chuchu (pronounced shoo-shoo). Until recently difficult to source in most of North America, chayote has recently moved beyond Latin American ethnic food shops and markets and can now be found in supermarkets everywhere. If you've never tried chayote, this recipe is a perfect introduction, as it's quick, no-fuss and absolutely delicious.
RECIPE - Shrimp with Chayote (Camarão com Chuchu)
4 portions

1 lb (400 gr) medium shrimp, headless, deveined and peeled
juice of 1 lime
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 lb chayote, peeled, depitted and cut into small cubes
1 small chili pepper (malagueta, jalapeno, serrano), halved and deseeded
1 tsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
In a medium mixing bowl, season the shrimp with the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and the chopped cilantro. Allow to stand for 15 minutes.

In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the chopped onion and garlic and saute until the onion just begins to brown. Add the reserved shrimp and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the shrimp begin to take on a pink color. Add the chopped tomatoes, the chayote cubes and the halved chili pepper. Correct the seasoning for salt, cook for a few minutes over medium heat or until the tomato begins to break up. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about 25 minutes or until the chayote is soft and tender. Add additional water by 1/4 cup amounts if needed to prevent drying out.

Remove from heat, discard the chili pepper halves, add the chopped parsley and toss briefly. Place in a decorative serving bowl and serve immediately accompanied by white rice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The pupunheira palm tree, native to the rain forests of Central and South America and bearing the fearsome sounding botanical name of Bactris gasipaes, is one of these double-whammy food-bearing plants that offer more than one foodstuff from a single plant. Think of beets with their sweet, earthy root and their bitter and flavorful greens. Other than the reddish tinge in the veins of the greens, there is nothing that would lead one to believe the root and the leaf must come from the same plant. Or think of the coriander plant - its ground seeds are an essential part of Indian curries adding warm, spicy and orange-scented notes, while the fresh, tangy, green leaves of the same plant (better known by its Spanish name cilantro) are an important herb in Mexican, Brazilian and Thai cuisines. Again, there is nothing that would seem to connect ground coriander with fresh cilantro.

The pupunheira palm, which flourishes in all tropical regions of Brazil offers both its fruit and the tender growing bud of its central stalk for human consumption. In an upcoming post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll discuss the stalk-bud, which is known in Brazil as palmito and in English as heart of palm. The pupunheira is only one of several palm species from which palmito is harvested, but it's ecologically the most sustainable one, and its importance in the international heart of palm market is growing rapidly.

The bounty of this palm tree is more than just palmito, though. The pupunheira also bears a bright red fruit with a brilliant orange-yellow interior that's an important food source for dwellers of the rain forest and which is now just beginning to be marketed commercially outside its native habitat. In the Amazon region, where the bulk of the harvest is still sold and consumed, pupunha fruits can be found in markets, on simple roadside fruit stands, and even sold by vendors at traffic lights.

Because the pupunha fruit contains oxalic acid it cannot be eaten raw, as it is toxic in that state. It must be cooked to eliminate the acid, and this is generally done by boiling the fruit for 50 to 80 minutes in salted water, then cooling it and peeling it before consumption. Pupunha fruit is often eaten as part of the breakfast meal. Some prefer to eat it in it's natural state, but many Brazilian add honey or sugar to it to increase the sweetness. For mid-day or evening meals, it's often mashed or ground into a puree which substitutes for other starches such as potatoes or manioc that can't be cultivated in the rain forest. Pupunha puree can be further dried in a kiln or oven then reground to make a type of flour, which can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration and reconstituted later with water.

Nutritional studies indicate that pupunha fruits have high levels of anti-oxidants and vitamin A and can be an important source of selenium. Pupunha has one of the highest levels of selenium in the plant kingdom. The fruit also has high levels of beneficial oils.

Today, the commercial value of the bud of the plant (the palmito) vastly outweighs the commercial value of the fruit, which is known and eaten primarily in its native habitat. Outside Amazonia there is a tremendous domestic and international market for palmito, but currently almost none for the fruit. Both governmental and non-governmental organizations are working on ways to increase the commercial visibility and viability of the fruit, which in the future could be an important value-added product of the harvesting of pupunheira palms to meet the international demand for hearts of palm..

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Culinary Shrine to Antonio Carlos Jobim

Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim, or Tom Jobim as he's more commonly referred to in Brazil, is Brazil's most well-known composer internationally (sorry, Heitor Villa-Lobos!) Along with João Gilberto he is credited with creating the musical style known as Bossa nova, which took Brazil and much of the rest of the world by storm in the 1960s. A pianist and vocalist as well as a composer, he is remembered for such immortal tunes as "The Girl from Ipanema", "Desafinado", "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), "Águas de Março" (Waters of March), and "Wave".

Brazilians were (and still are) crazy for Jobim, both for his musical talent and for his endearing and charming personality. Rio de Janeiro's international airport has been named for him - Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport - putting him in the company of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Charles de Gaulle and Pierre Trudeau, all of whom have airports named after them.

It's fitting that Rio is the city that decided to honor him thus, as he was born in that city, and it was there that he and his colleagues created Bossa nova. He is particularly associated with Rio's upper-class beachfront neighborhoods of Ipanema and Leblon, where he grew up. It was in Ipanema's Veloso Bar where Jobim and his co-composer Vinicius de Moraes first saw the girl from Ipanema walk by "on her way to the sea" and were inspired to write their classic ode to her youthful beauty and style.

For years, Jobim dined several times a week in Leblon restaurant Plataforma. There Jobim's favorite dish was a flattened and grilled, deboned chicken. This is a classic Brazilian grill recipe and is served in restaurants throughout the country - a small chicken is deboned, spread open at the backbone, weighted down to flatten it, then simply grilled and served with fries and a salad. Jobim always jokingly ordered this dish as "frango atropelado", meaning "run-over chicken", because the flattened chicken looked like it was the one chicken that did not successfully cross the road. The name stuck, and to this day, the dish is called "Frango atropelado de Tom Jobim" on Plataforma's menu.  A fitting tribute to a true musical genius and bon vivant.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RECIPE - Leão Veloso Soup (Sopa Leão Veloso)

Rio de Janeiro's venerable downtown restaurant Rio Minho is home to one of Brazil's most famous "homage" recipes, Seafood Stew Antônio Houaiss, named in honor of of Brazil's most important lexicographer. (The recipe can be found here). But that dish isn't the only one served at Rio Minho which honors a famous Brazilian of the past. Rio Minho is also home to a Brazilian take on the French classic bouillabaisse, created by and named in honor of Leão Veloso.

Pedro Leão Veloso was a Brazilian politician and diplomat who served his country as Minister of Exterior Relations during the period 1944-1946. (Interestingly, his predecessor in that post, Osvaldo Aranha also has given his name to a famous Brazilian dish - details can be found here). In addition to having the soup bear his name, Sr. Veloso was also the creator of the dish. He had developed a passion for bouillabaisse when visiting its birthplace Marseille, France, and decided to create a Brazilian version of it upon his return to Brazil. His soup contained locally-available fish and seafood and substitutes annatto paste or oil (urucum) for bouillabaisse's traditional saffron. According to Rio Minho's chef Ramon Isaac Tielas Domingues, who has been in the restaurant's kitchen for thirty years, over time the restaurant has chosen to add sweet paprika to color and flavor the soup rather than annatto, but other than that, the recipe served to today is entirely Sr. Veloso's.

The recipe calls for a large quantity of a variety of fish and shellfish (just like bouillabaisse). It does make enough soup for a large crowd however, 10 persons, and is filling enough to serve as a main-course dish. Serve with plenty of crusty French bread and a leafy green salad.
RECIPE - Leão Veloso Soup (Sopa Leão Veloso)
Serves 10

1 lb (500 gr) medium shrimp, unpeeled
2 lbs (1 kb) clams or mussels
1 large white fish, whole, including head (grouper, snapper) - about 3 lbs (1.g kg)
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
salt to taste
2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 whole chili pepper (malagueta, jalapeno, serrano)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb (500 gr) crab meat, picked over
1 lb (500 gr) lobster meat, coarsely chopped
Wash the shrimp and scrub the clams well to remove all sand. If using mussels, debeard them. Separate the fish head from the body - cut the body into steaks and chop the head into several large pieces. Reserve.

Place the pieces of fish head in a large stockpot, then add 2 quarts (2 liters) cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming off foam and scum. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for one hour. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, pressing hard on the fish to increase the flavor of the stock.

Return the stock to a clean stockpot, bring to a slow boil, then add the shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp takes on a pink color. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon, let cool, then peel and reserve them. Reserve the stock in the pot.

Next add the clams or mussels to the stockpot and cook for a few minutes, or until they open. Remove the shellfish with a slotted spoon, discarding any unopened ones. Remove the meat from the shells and reserve.

In a large heavy-duty frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil then fry the fish steaks, in batches if necessary. Cook until the fish just begins to flake. Drain the fish on paper towels, allow to cool slightly then flake the meat, discarding bones and skin. Reserve.

In the same frying pan, combine the chopped tomatoes, the garlic, the cilantro, the onion and the parsley and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until the onion and garlic have softened and the tomato becomes a pulp. Add salt to taste and the paprika and cook for one more minute.

Heat the stock in the pot, then add the tomato/garlic mixture. Cook over very low heat, at a slow simmer for 40 minutes. Add the reserved shrimps, shellfish and flaked fish, then the crab meat and lobster. Cook for 10 minutes then serve immediately in deep soup plates.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

RECIPE - Seafood Stew Antonio Houaiss (Peixada à Antônio Houaiss)

Antônio Houaiss, member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, was a twentieth-century lexicographer, author and publisher in Rio de Janeiro. His most enduring monument is the Portuguese-language dictionary that he edited from 1985 to 1999 and published posthumously in 2001 entitled Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa, usually just referred to in Brazil as the Houaiss.

But the dictionary is not Sr. Houaiss' only memorial. As discussed in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil noted persons in Brazil and elsewhere are often memorialized by dishes created in their honor, and in Brazil a rich and luxurious seafood stew has been given Sr. Houaiss' name.

Along with many other intellectuals and literary figures in Rio in the second half of the twentieth century, Antônio Houaiss often chose to dine at midday in a downtown restaurant called Rio Minho. There, his favorite dish was apparently a saffron-scented seafood stew containing fish, shrimps, the strange lobster-like crustacean called cavaquinha, and boiled potatoes. Eventually, he became so associated with the dish that the restaurant decided to add his name to the dish to honor his many literary achievements (and his gastronomic good taste).

Rio Minho restaurant, one of Rio's oldest restaurants, having opened in 1884, is still packed at lunchtime with authors, editors and literary agents, and it's still serving many of them Antônio Houaiss' favorite dish.

Since cavaquinha isn't easily found in fish markets outside Brazil, you can very successfully substitute lobster tail in this elegant (and quite expensive) dish.
RECIPE - Seafood Stew Antonio Houaiss (Peixada à Antônio Houaiss)
Serves 2

6 small boiling potatoes (or 3 medium-large, halved), peeled
2 extra-large prawns, peeled but with tails left on
1 cavaquinha (or lobster tail)
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine (original recipe calls for Chardonnay)
1 Tbsp saffron
1 grouper or halibut steak
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
Bring one quart (1 liter) salted water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the peeled potatoes and cook until just tender. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon, refresh them in cold water and reserve. In the same water cook the shrimps and cavaquina or lobster for 5 minutes. Reserve the seafood.

In a small frying pan heat half of the vegetable oil, then add the minced garlic and saute for a minute or so. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the wine and the saffron. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two or three minutes, then remove from heat and reserve.

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil, then fry the fish steak until it is tender and just beginning to flake. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Place the fried fish in a small oven-proof gratin dish or deep serving dish. Place the lobster tail on top of the fish and one shrimp at each end of the lobster. Surround with the boiled potatoes, then pour the wine/saffron mixture over all. Place the dish under a pre-heated broiler for a few minutes, or until all the seafood is hot and the liquid is bubbling. Remove from the heat, sprinkle the potatoes with the parsley and serve immediate in the gratin or serving dish.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brazil's "Homage" Recipe Classics

Carpaccio - Portrait of an Unknown Man with Red Beret
One way that noted politicians, singers, writers and actors have been hailed and honored through history is by having their names grace streets, public spaces, buildings, airports and other facilities. Think of JFK Airport in New York or Charles de Gaulle Airport serving Paris. Even cities and states are baptized with the names of the famous - Lincoln, Nebraska or (formerly) Leningrad and Stalingrad are examples.

Nelly Melba
Interestingly, one way in which many celebrities are honored and remembered is by bestowing their name on a recipe or food. Peach Melba honors the Australian soprano Nelly Melba, while another soprano Adelina Patti is remembered through Poularde Adelina Patti, a French chicken dish. There is controvery about which of two New York stockbrokers named Benedict lent his name to Eggs Benedict - either Lemuel Benedict or LeGrand Benedict. Italian painter Carpaccio was famous for his use of a particular red color and the resemblance of this color to the color of a plate of thinly-sliced raw beef resulted in the dish beef carpaccio. Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Earl Grey is more famous today as a tea than as a Prime Minister.

Brazil has a number of recipes which honor its own famous and/or notorious. Previously on Flavors of Brazil we've featured the chocolate treat called brigadeiro, the grilled steak which honors politician and diplomat Osvaldo Aranha and a rich cake from north-eastern Brazil named after a family of sugar plantation owners, bolo Souza Leão. Other well-loved Brazilian recipes come from other countries already named for celebrities - Portugal is the source of  Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá and the noble Russian family the Stroganoffs have been naturalized in Brazil as the Estroganofes.

In the next few posts, Flavors of Brazil will highlight other Brazilian "homage" recipes - two recipes named for famous Brazilians which were created by the kitchen of one of Rio de Janeiro's oldest and most-revered restaurants, Rio Minho, and another, whimsically named by the honoree himself, bossa-nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

RECIPE - Creole Salad (Salada Crioula)

The word creole has several definitions in English and its Portuguese equivalent crioulo has just as many. And the meanings can be contradictory - one of the English definitions is "a person born in the West Indies or Spanish America, but of European, usually Spanish, ancestry", while in the best-known Brazilian Portuguese dictionary, Houaiss, one of the definitions is "blacks (slaves, or descendents of slaves) born in Brazil." In both English and Portuguese, the word can also refer not to persons but to languages. The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines a creole language this way: "A mother tongue formed from the contact of a European language with a local language (especially African languages spoken by slaves in the West Indies."

All of which is to explain that the name for the recipe featured in this post, creole salad, really doesn't provide any useful information about the recipe - what it contains, where it comes from, how or when it's to be eaten. This is one of those recipes with a poetic name, one that is meant to be evocative and inviting. If creole salad were to have a descriptive title, it would probably be called shrimp and avocado salad. For that's what it is - a combination of avocado, coconut milk, cilantro and boiled shrimps.

Whether the name is prosaic or poetic, however, this dish is simple, quick and delicious. It makes a great first course at dinner, or a lunchtime main course. When shopping for ingredients be sure to get good-sized shrimp or increase the number if only small shrimp are available. In Brazil, this recipe would be made with a large, bright-green avocado and half an avocado is sufficient for one person. If only the very small, black and knobby Hass avocados are available to you then a whole one per person is better.
RECIPE - Creole Salad (Salada Crioula)
Serves 2

6 medium shrimp, peeled but with tails attached
4 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp coconut milk
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small jalapeno or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
juice of one medium lime
1 or 2 ripe (but not over-ripe) avocados (see note above)
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the avocado(s) in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Using a spoon remove the flesh from the skin, taking care not to tear the skin. Reserve the shells.

Put the avocado flesh in a small mixing bowl, the mix in the coconut milk, the olive oil, and the lime juice. With a spoon mash and mix all the ingredients, but don't overmix. You want some texture remaining at the end of the process, not a homogenous pulp. Season with salt and pepper to taste and reserve.

Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the shrimps and cook until just pink and opaque, about three minutes. Drain into a sieve or colander and refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. Reserve.

Divide the mashed avocado among the shells, then top with the shrimp, dividing them among the shells as well. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and if desired with the chopped hot chili pepper. Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from recipe by chef Jeff Colas of Maison do Bonfim restaurant in Olinda, Brazil, as published in Prazeres da Mesa magazine. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Posting Back on Schedule Tomorrow - August 19th

Flavors of Brazil's loyal readers know that they can expect something new on the blog from Monday to Saturday (Never on Sunday!). But there haven't been any posts here since last Saturday, so perhaps a quick explanation is in order.

We've recently returned from a month's vacation back in Canada - Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City. The trip was wonderful, but the return voyage was not. Thanks to a massive delay in an Air Canada flight from Toronto to São Paulo, the return was a more-than-36-hour nightmare, and we only arrived in Fortaleza late last night.

Thanks for coming to visit the blog, and starting tomorrow, the 19th, we'll be back on our normal posting schedule.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Attn Chocoholics: The World's Largest Chocolate Fair Is Coming to Brazil

It's just been announced that the largest international chocolate fair and exposition, the Salon do Chocolat, will be held for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere in 2012, specifically in the Brazilian city of Salvador, Bahia.

The Salon, which held its first edition in Paris in 1995 has since been hosted by cities such as New York, Shanghai, Madrid, Beijing, Lille, Bologna, Marseille and Cairo. But it's never been held in a country and region which produces cacau, the bean from which chocolate is produced. Salvador is the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia - the largest producer of cacau in Brazil and one of the most important cacau-growing regions in the world. The Brazilian cacau-growing industry is currently growing rapidly and recovering from the effects of a devastating disease which affected large number of cacau trees in the 1980s.

Brazil is also one of the world's largest chocolate-consuming nations, and its passion for chocolate in all its forms borders at time on obsession. The most prestigious Europeans brands of chocolate, such as Valrhona and Godiva, have recently entered the Brazilian marketplace where they have had exceptional success.

Previous editions of the Salon do Chocolat have welcomed up to 20,000 visitors per day, and the government of Bahia, which is one of the event's sponsors, expects that the Salon will have a tremendous impact on Salvador's 2012 visitor numbers.

The Salon is scheduled for the first week in July, 2012. Chocoholics, mark your calendars.

Probably Not a Great Idea - Brazil's Goat Fondue

Fondue, being of Swiss origin, is often thought of as a perfect cold-weather food. In its three major varieties - beef, cheese, chocolate - it's warming and filling in the way that a proper wintertime food should be. Dipping crusty French bread into a bubbling bowl of melted cheese with white wine is a sure way to warm anyone up literally and figuratively.

Brazil's currently in the middle of their Southern Hemisphere winter and according to a recent article in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper an inn owner in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco (where, as the article points out, it gets as cold as 12C or 53F!) has come up with a uniquely Brazilian take on fondue.

Pedro de Oliveira Junior owns the Baixa Verde inn, located in the town of Triunfo, Pernambuco. The town sits in the interior highlands of Pernambuco, at an altitude of 1000 meters, or just under 4000 ft. Apparently Sr. Oliveira recently had a fondue revelation - he is quoted in the newspaper as saying, "Because it's so cold in our region - we have had days that go as low as 12V - we've always featured cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, other types. So one day I said to myself, 'Why not goat? since everyone in our neighborhood raises goats.'"

Goat meat has many virtues and is a meat that deserves to be more well-known in large parts of the world where it's not currently part of the diet. It is very flavorful, and quite healthy. But it seems to us at Flavors of Brazil that goat fondue isn't something that's going to set the gastronomic world on fire. Goat meat requires long cooking, usually braising, to make it tender. Undercooked, it can be extremely tough. A quick dip in boiling oil, a la beef fondue, really isn't enough to tenderize a piece of goat meat, nor to mellow its strong taste.

However, until we've had a chance to sample goat fondue, we'll reserve finally judgment. Best of luck in the meantime to Sr. Oliveira for his initiative and creativy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Do Brazilians Eat Most?

Recently, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Portuguese acronym - IBGE) published the results of a survey on the daily eating habits of Brazilians. Completely unsurprisingly, the survey revealed that the three most commonly consumed foodstuffs of Brazil are rice, beans and coffee. Anyone who has any knowledge of Brazilian eating habits would be likely to name the same three foods if asked to guess what Brazilians eat most.

Nonetheless, there were some interesting statistics in the publication many of which indicate wide variations in daily diet from region to region within the country. Because of huge distances, different climates and environments and varying agricultural practices, what a northern Brazilian from the Amazon eats is not the same as what a southerner from Santa Catarina or Rio Grande do Sul finds on their plate. The "big three", however - rice, beans and coffee - are consumed everywhere.

The average daily consumption of rice in Brazil is 182 grams (about .40 pounds). The consumption of beans is slightly less at 160 grams (about .35 pounds). These are washed down with nearly 220 ml (just under a cup) of coffee. Considering that Brazilian coffee is normally drunk in very small cups called cafezinhos, this works out to nearly seven cups of coffee per person per day. Brazil truly does run on caffeine.

Next in line in terms of favorite foods in Brazil are bread and beef.The most common type of bread in Brazil is a small French-style roll, and 63% of the population eats bread on any given day. The percentage who eat beef is just under half of the population (48%). The beef number seems astonishingly high, but Brazil is only 6th in the world in per capita beef consumption and Brazilians eat less than half as much beef as their neighbors the Argentinians and Uruguayans.

Some regional patterns that emerged from the survey show that inhabitants of Brazil's Central West region consume the most rice, beef and whole milk, while those who live in the populous Southeast (which includes the two largest cities in Brazil, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, eat more beans, more yogurt, and more potatoes than anywhere else in the country). It's not a surprise that those who live in the north, home of the gigantic Amazon River system, eat more fresh water fish than their compatriots elsewhere in Brazil as well as more açaí, one of the region's native fruits.

A native starch, manioc, in its many forms is much more consumed in the north and north-east than elsewhere. In those regions 40% of the population consumes manioc in some form daily, while in the south the equivalent number is less than 5%.

The overall picture drawn by the IBGE's survey shows a country that is united by its eating habits, but one that is also regionally divided by those same habits. Just as the foods of New England and California display varying regional preferences yet share some typical American eating habits, the pattern in Brazil shows the same unity and diversity. And the foods that link all Brazilians as they sit down to a meal are the bid three - rice, beans and coffee.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RECIPE - Carrot Cake with Coconut Oil and Gianduia (Bolo de cenoura com óleo de coco e gianduia)

When we were doing research for the previous post on Flavors of Brazil, about virgin coconut oil, we came across a recipe on a Brazilian food blog called Sabor Saudade for an amazing sounding carrot cake made with coconut oil and marbled with the Italian hazelnut-enriched chocolate known as gianduia. If you're familiar with the Italian chocolate spread called Nutella, you'll know what the taste of  is all about, though industrially-produced Nutella is far inferior to good quality  gianduia. The recipe on the blog was accompanied with mouth-watering photographs, a couple of which we've included on this post.

As discussed in the last post, if you're contemplating purchasing coconut oil, be sure to buy only virgin oil. We've even seen coconut oil labeled extra virgin, though we're not sure what differentiates garden-variety virgin from extra-virgin. In any case, do not buy processed or hydrogenated coconut oil - it is very high in saturated fats and trans fats.
RECIPE - Carrot Cake with Coconut Oil and Gianduia (Bolo de cenoura com óleo de coco e gianduia)

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3 medium whole eggs
2/3 cup (200 ml) unrefined white sugar
1/2 cup (250 ml) all-purpose white flour
1/3 cup (100 ml) virgin coconut oil
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 Tbsp gianduia paste
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a tube cake pan (or Bundt pan, reserve.

In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients with the exception of the gianduia. Blend or process until you have a homogenous batter, thoroughly mixed. Pour the batter into the greased cake pan.

Spoon the gianduia paste onto the top of the cake batter, in spoonsful of about one Tbsp each. With a rubber spatula, fold the gianduia into the batter, but do not over-mix. You want pockets of melted gianduia in the cake when you serve it.

Place the cake pan in the preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, let cool in the pan, then reverse the cake onto a cake platter. Let cool completely before serving.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ongoing Coconut Oil Controversy

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat or kernel of the mature fruit of the coconut tree. It plays an important role in Brazilian cuisine, particularly as a component of the coconut milk called for in a huge number of traditional dishes in Brazil. The oil is particularly associated with the Afro-Brazilian cuisine of the north-eastern state of Bahia, where it is an essential ingredient in the seafood stews called moquecas, in vatapá, and in many sweets and desserts.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of coconut oil is that it is highly saturated (meaning that the oil is solid rather than liquid at room temperature). Consumption of saturated fats in general is known to contribute to high levels of cholesterol and because of health concerns, such well-respected authorities as the US FDA, the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Heart Association, and the British National Health Service recommend against the consumption of significant amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fats.

Coconut oil and palm oil has been vilified for years as dietary time-bombs in the popular press. There are significant concerns about the consumption of coconut oil, particularly unknown coconut oil in processed foods. For example, many movie theatres use coconut oil to pop the popcorn they sell in immense quantities. Because it is highly saturated coconut oil is exceptionally stable, meaning that it can be used to fry foods a high temperatures and that is has an extremely long shelf-life, up to two years. These properties are often increased by the process of hydrogenation, and much of the coconut oil used in processed foods is hydrogenated. Hydrogenizing coconut oil raises the temperature at which it melts, an important characteristic in warm climates. Unprocessed coconut oil melts at well below body temperature (about 24C or 76F) but processed oil remains solid up to 36-40C or 97-104F. Some of the fat in coconut oil is converted into unhealthy trans fats during the hydrogenation process as well.

Recent research in Brazil and elsewhere indicates that unprocessed coconut oil (called virgin oil, like olive oil) might not actually be so dangerous as previously thought, and perhaps it's only hydrogenated coconut oil that should be avoided. Unhydrogenated coconut oil contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that increases the level of HDL cholesterol (the "good cholesterol) in the blood. Human breast milk also contains significant amounts of lauric acid. Because much of coconut oil's saturated fat is in this form of lauric acid, it might be a better alternative than hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils when solid fats are required. Because much of the early research on coconut oil was done on hydrogenated oils and not on virgin oil the levels of risk associated with coconut milk in those studies might not apply to the virgin oil. It seems that the health risk profile for virgin oil is significantly better than for the processed product.

Creative cooks in Brazil and elsewhere are exploring the culinary potential of virgin coconut oil. Many have commented on its slightly sweet, slightly nutty taste which makes it an excellent choice in pastries and sweet baking. Customer demand for virgin oil, coupled with falling demand for hydrogenated oil with its trans fats, means that the natural product is increasingly available in many countries, where it can most easily be found in health food and natural food stores and markets. I've spotted it recently in Fortaleza and the jar was clearly labeled "virgem". If you're buying it anywhere else, look for the word virgin or the local-launguage equivalent to make sure you're not getting hydrogenated oil.

Maybe we don't have to be quite so scared of coconut oil as we've been led to believe in recent times. It's a matter of making sure that one doesn't consume large amounts of hidden hydrogenated coconut oil in processed foods, that one uses only virgin oil when it is called for in a recipe, and as with everything else, consuming with in moderation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RECIPE - Francesinha Sandwich

This recipe for Portugal's extravagant francesinha sandwich, which has crossed the South Atlantic in recent years and can now be found in thousands of Brazilian bars, lunch counters and restaurants, is courtesy of Brazilian food-writer Ailin Aleixo's food blog Gastrolândia.

The francesinha, with a delicate and feminine name, is decidedly a masculine sandwich. It's a dieter's nightmare, and and glutton's pipedream all in one. As mentioned in yesterday's post about how the sandwich came to be invented and how it arrived on Brazilian shores, one of these sandwiches represents well over a thousand calories - half of the daily total recommended intake for men and more than half of women's recommended intake.

Most people eat the sandwich in a commercial establishment. It's not something to throw together at home and preparing a home version involves making a relatively complex gravy as well as constructing the sandwich itself. But for those brave (foolhardy?) readers of the blog who want to try one out without having to travel to Brazil or Portugal, here's how it is done:
RECIPE - Francesinha Sandwich

For the gravy:
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
6 oz (150 grams) flank steak (fraldinha) cut into medium-sized cubes
1 bay leaf
piri-piri hot sauce to taste (Tabasco sauce can be substituted)
2 Tbsp corn starch
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 oz (60 ml) Port wine (optional)
2 cups (500 ml) Pilsner-style beer
salt to taste

For the sandwich:
1 slice good-quality smoked ham
1 small sausage of your choice (chorizo, linguiça, andouille, wurst, etc.) , sliced lengthwise and fried until nicely browned
1 slice Italian mortadella
3 slices mozzarella cheese
1 small boneless steak, grilled or fried
2 thick slices rustic peasant bread at least 1 in (3 cm) thick
1 fried egg (sunny-side-up is traditional)
gravy to taste
Prepare the gravy: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the garlic, the cubes of meat and the bay leaf and fry them, stirring frequently, until the onion and the meat have nicely browned. Add the Port wine, if using, and the tomato paste and mix them in thoroughly. Pour in the beer and hot sauce, and correct for salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for at least one hour or until reduced by about half. Dissolve the corn starch in about 4 Tbsp cold water, then stir it in. Let cook for about 5 minutes or until the corn starch is transparent and has thickened the gravy. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve, pressing down on the solid ingredients. Reserve, keeping warm.

Prepare the sandwich: Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Place one slice of the bread in an ovenproof dish or casserole. Top the bread with one slice of the mozzarella, then the ham, mortadella and grilled steak. Add one more slice of cheeze and the second slice of bread. Top with the final slice of cheese. Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until the meats are hot and the cheeze has melted and browned. Meanwhile, fry the egg. Remove the sandwich from the oven and place it on a deep plate, using a spatula and taking care that the sandwich remains whole. Pour the warm gravy over all, making sure there is plenty at the bottom of the plate. Top with the fried egg and serve immediately, accompanied with french fries if desired.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Francesinha - Portugal's Latest Gift to Brazil

In numerous posts over the past couple of years, we've reminded the readers of Flavors of Brazil that the roots of Brazilian cuisine rest on the combination of three culinary traditions - the original tradition being the Native American or Indian one. It existed in the lands that would become Brazil long before the arrival of Europeans, and it still strongly influences Brazilian food culture today, particularly in the north of the country. The second tradition, the European tradition, was carried to Brazil by explorers, colonists and immigrants, particularly from Portugal. Its influence is felt most strongly in Brazil's south and south-east. The final tradition is the African, particularly important in north-eastern Brazil, and which came from Africa in the memories of slaves captured on that continent and transported to Brazil.

These three traditions date back to the very beginnings of Brazil and combine in all sorts of felicitous fashions to shape traditional and contemporary Brazilian cuisines alike. But these influences are not just something of the past. They continue to this day bringing new ingredients, new cooking styles and new recipes to the constantly-evolving world of Brazilian gastronomy.

One good example of this constant re-invention of Brazilian culinary influences is the recent arrival in Brazil of a Portuguese sandwich called the francesinha. Unlike many other Portuguese-influenced Brazilian dishes, like those made with salt-cod (bacalhau) or those which date back to the convent-confectionaries of 16th and 17th century Portugal, the francesinha only recently arrived in Brazil. It couldn't have come over with colonists and explorers, since it was only created in the 1960s, in Porto, Portugal. And it's only been in the first decade of this century that it has shown up on menus in this country, where it seems to be rising meteorically in culinary consciousness.

The francesinha (meaning little French girl in Portuguese) was invented by a Portuguese chef who had lived in Paris in the 60s and who was returned to Portugal enchanted by the beauty and style of French women. He was equally enchanted by a hot ham-and-cheese French sandwich called croque-monsieur. When he returned to Porto he used the croque-monsieur as a base for his inventive tribute to French womanhood - the francesinha. His sandwich was an immediate sensation and other bars and restaurants, first in Porto and then throughout Portugal, began to serve them, often modifying the original recipe with new ingredients and side-dishes. Today, almost every bar and lunch spot in the country has some sort of francesinha on offer.

With its diminuitive name (little French girl) one would think that the sandwich would be light and delicate. Nothing of the sort. A francesinha is a meal-and-a-half in a sandwich and finishing one leaves room for very little else for a long time. A nutritional study has found that the average francesinha packs a walloping 1200 calories once you add in the almost obligatory side of french fries.

So what makes a francesinha a francesinha? Basically the sandwich begins with two extra-thick slices of heavy, rustic peasant bread. Between the slices lie slices of sausage, ham, roast beef and cheese. Once the sandwich is plated another slice of cheese is placed over the top piece of bread and then francesinha sauce (a rich beef gravy made with beer, a touch of Port wine, and a good dose of piri-piri peppers) is poured over the sandwich, soaking the bread and the contents. The comes the final touch - a sunny-side-up fried egg on top of it all and plenty of french fries on the side. There you have it - 1200 calories of bread, meat, melted cheese, beer, wine and french fries - a francesinha. Brazil's latest gift from the mother country; the delight of Brazilian gluttons and gourmands and the despair of nutritionists and doctors throughout the country.

If you're brave enough to face down a francesinha, we'll tell you how to make one, including the special sauce, in our next post.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

RECIPE - Dark Cocada (Cocada Preta)

This Brazilian sweet is worthy of a king - or at the very least worthy of a king of dark cocada (see previous post O rei da cocada preta). Whether blue blood flows in your veins or not, you will have to agree, once you taste it, that it's worth a king's ransom (OK, we promise there'll be no more playing with the words kind, royel, regal etc. in this post. Enough is enough.)

A variation on the snow-white theme of cocada, this Brazilian sweet or candy made from grated or flaked dried coconut with some sort of sweetening ingredient and something to bind it all together comes from the north-eastern state of Bahia. Our version employs a raw, unrefined, unbleached sugar called rapadura to provide the dark color and flavor note, and a simple syrup of sugar and water to hold it all together. Outside of Brazil, rapadura is hard to find, but you can substitute Demerara brown sugar in equal quantity for a similar result. This treat is sinfully good, but be aware that it's also sinfully sweet as it's made by Brazilians. That's the way they love it, but if you or those you're serving cocada preta to lack a sweet tooth, you might find it too sweet entirely. Just a friendly warning.
RECIPE - Dark Cocada (Cocada Preta)
Makes 30

1 lb (500 gr) rapadura (or dark Demerara sugar)
2 lbs (900 gr) white granulated sugar
4 cups (1 liter) water
3 lbs (1.5 kg) flaked unsweetened coconut

If using rapadura, melt it in a heavy pan over low heat. Remove from heat as soon as it melts. Pass through a metal sieve to remove impurities, then reserve.

In a large heavy pan, hea the white granulated sugar over low heat until it melts, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook and stir constantly until it begins to take on a golden color, then add the reserved rapadura or Demerara sugar. If using the sugar, continue to cook and stir until it is dissolved. Now add the water, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring all the time. When all the water is added, cook until the liquid has reached the thick syrup stage, continuing to stir. Remove from heat, fold in the coconut flakes and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Spread out enough wax paper on a large work surface or tabletop and drop 30 or so equal-sized rounds of the cocada. Spread them out slightly with the back of the wooden spoon, and let stand until completely cool and slightly hardened. Store in an air-tight container in layers, with wax paper between each layer.

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

Brazilian Gastronomic Expressions Pt. 1 - O Rei de Cocada Preta

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we've not tracked down examples from all 6000 languages spoken in the world, but we're willing to bet that every one of them has at least one common expression or idiom that comes from the world of food and cooking. The French with their lengthy cultural obsessions with food and language naturally have many such expressions - "crème de la crème" for anything that is the best of its class, or "cracher dans la soupe" - literally "spit in the soup" and bearing the same meaning as the English expression "bite the hand that feeds you." The Italian expression "come rubare le caramelle a un bambino is easily recognizable in its English translation, "like taking candy from a baby." From Yiddish comes the charming and insulting "zol vacksen tsibiles fun dayn pupik" meaning "onions should grow from your navel." And English, of course, if full of such expressions - "too many cooks spoil the broth", "piece of cake", "gravy train", "from the frying pan into the fire" and "sells like hotcakes."

Brazilian Portuguese is no exception when it comes to culinary idioms. We thought it might be fun in this post and in occasional future posts to feature some of these expressions and the foods that inspired them.

The King himself, from the Brazilian website O Rei da Cocada Preta
One of the most commonly-encountered food idioms in Brazil is "o rei da cocada preta." It's used something like this - Ele se acha o rei da cocada preta (in English "he thinks he's the king of dark cocada). The sense of the idiom is that this person has an undeservedly high opinion of himself - he's full of himself. Arrogant, egotistical, egocentric - or simply the king of dark cocada.

Earlier this hear, Flavors of Brazil published a recipe for cocada, a traditional sweet made from grated dry coconut and sugar syrup, sometimes enrichened with cream or condensed milk. It's delicious, no question, but why would someone who's got a big head consider himself the king of dark cocada? Like many food idioms, the origins of this phrase are lost in time, but in Brazilian folklore there is a legendary kingdom called Cocada Preta. It's supposedly located somewhere on a tiny island off the coast of Brazil, and although it is desperately empoverished and has nothing, the inhabitants think it's the best place on earth. It's likely that this island's monarch shares the opinion of his subjects, hence the idiom.

Basic cocada, made from coconut, sugar and condensed milk is bright white, but there does exist a variation called cocada preta. It's made with rapadura, a darkly-colored unrefined sugar. This dark brown sugar gives cocada preta its color, and indirectly gives Brazilians a colorful and flavorful way to express their opinions of the egoists in their midst. Next time on Flavors of Brazil, we'll post a recipe for cocada preta.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

RECIPE - Roast Whole Fresh Ham Brazilian Style (Pernil Assado)

This marvelous recipe for a entire fresh ham, marinaded for 24 hours and slow roasted at low temperature, comes to Flavors of Brazil from a Brazilian food blog called Come-Se (meaning Eat! in English). The blog's author, Neide Rigo, is a well-respected food journalist and authority in São Paulo, and her blog has been around for more than six years. She's a strong advocate for Slow Food Brasil, and is one of the prime moving forces for food security in Brazil.

According to her blog, Neide created this recipe to feed a crowd for a party celebrating her husband's newly-won black belt in karate. She details the various reasons why a fresh ham is the perfect centerpiece for such occasions,

[A fresh ham] is easy to cook, with very few chances of anything going seriously wrong; it has numerous possible variations of the recipe, generally pleases most people, and besides it's economical.

You will have to start to marinade the meat 24 hours before putting it in the oven, so this roast does require some advance planning - it's not a last-minute choice. The whole process starts at the butcher shop where you should ask for an entire fresh ham, bone in, of about 15-16 lbs (15 kgs). Ask the butcher to remove the skin and trim the fat, leaving only a thin layer of fat covering the meat. (If you want to make your own fried pork rinds (torresmo) ask the butcher to wrap up the skin for you.) You might also want to ask the butcher to give you one of the large plastic bags that fresh meat is generally delivered to butcher shops in. They're perfect to use in the marinading process for this recipe.
RECIPE - Roast Whole Fresh Ham Brazilian Style (Pernil Assado)
Serves up to 30 as part of a buffet table

1 whole fresh ham, bone in and skin removed, about 15-16 lbs (7 kgs)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sweet or hot paprika
juice of 2 large limes
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar can be substituted)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
4 bay leaves
Marinading the meat (begin 24 hours before cooking time):
Using a mortar and pestle (or a small mixing bowl with wooden spoon) crush the garlic cloves together with the salt. Add the paprika, the spices and lime juice, and crush to make a thick paste. Add the vinegar, wine and water and mix thorough to create the marinade.

Using a carving fork, perforate the ham with holes on all sides to allow the marinade to penetrate the meat. Place the ham in a large plastic butcher's bag or Ziploc bag. Pour the marinade over. Remove excess air from the bag and then seal it so that the entire surface of the meat is in contact with the marinade. Refrigerate for 24 hours in the refrigerator, turning over once or twice during this time.

About 8 hours before desired serving time, remove the meat from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 300F (150C) and about 7 1/4 hours before serving time, put the meat in a large roasting pan, pour the marinade over and place in the oven. Roast for 7 hours, checking from time to time to make sure the liquid doesn't dry out. If it starts to dry out add additional water or wine. Remove from oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 15 minutes before carving. Can be served immediately, or can be cooled to room temperature before carving and serving.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

PORK CUTS - Pernil (Fresh Ham)

A big social event in Brazil, be it a wedding reception, Christmas Eve dinner for the entire family including Great-Aunt Joana, or a young girl's 15th-birthday coming-out party, the main course for the meal might be turkey, but it's much more likely that it will be type of roast pork eminently suitable for serving a crowd. Something called pernil. This pork roast is cut from the animal's rear haunches and in the English-speaking world, it's known as fresh ham.

It's called fresh ham because the same cut of meat, smoked or cured, already has the "rights" to the word ham. When people think of ham the first thing that comes to mind is not a fresh cut of meat but rather a cured, aged or smoked one that goes into a ham 'n' cheese sandwich, or is roasted on Easter sunday decorated with canned pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. It's odd, actually. One would think that the generic term ham would refer to the natural, untreated cut, and that we'd say something like cured ham, or smoked ham when talking about the processed variety. But it's the other way around in English. The processed variety gets the generic name, and the natural product has to be described in detail to differentiate it.

Portuguese doesn't have this problem at all. The fresh cut of meat is called pernil, and the smoked or cured presunto. Clean, simple and straightforward.

Depending on the size of the pig that is slaughtered, a fresh ham can be a very large piece of meat - part of the reason why it works so well in serving a multitude. A full ham averages about 10-12 lbs (4.5-5 kg) boneless, and up to 20 lbs (9 kg) with the bone in. As the main course for a substantial meal, or as part of a buffet, a single ham can serve up to 30 people.

Pernil is a very popular cut of meat in Brazil. Part of its popularity is due to the fact that it's a very tasty cut of meat, but I'm sure that it's very low price point bumps up its popularity by a notch or two. Meat is normally much cheaper in Brazil than in North America or Europe, and this is especially true with almost any cut of pork. A check this week at a local butcher shop here in Fortaleza indicated a per-pound price for whole pernil of R$3.00 or USD$1.80.

Brazilians eat a lot of cured ham too, but mostly in the form of processed deli meats - sliced for sandwiches or cold-cut plates. A baked ham is rarely spotted at the dining table. It's pernil that shows up there, though it's often marinaded for a day or so before cooking to season it a bit and to firm up the meat. Next time round on Flavors of Brazil, we'll detail how to marinade and roast an entire fresh ham Brazilian-style. It's a spectacular cut of meat for a banquet, a real crowd-pleaser. And it needn't break the bank.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

RECIPE - Fish Soup from Ceará (Sopa de Peixe Cearense)

A jangada at sea
There's something deeply satisfying about an uncomplicated, non-tarted-up, rich fish soup. Aromatic, packed with the flavors of the sea, and elemental, it appeals to our most basic appetites. Almost every culture that lives from the sea has just such a soup - Mediterranean France's soupe aux poisson, Norwegian fiskesuppe, Thai bo taek and many more are all variations on a universal theme.

The fishermen of Brazil's north and north-eastern coasts, called jangadeiros from the name of the simple rafts they sail on (jangadas), have been making just such a soup for centuries. They make it, amazingly, at sea while on board their jangadas, and they make it when they return home. The same soup is also made in portside restaurants, located in the market where the jangadeiros sell their catch within hours of landing. And its made in Brazilians homes and apartments to anchor a family meal.

What gives this soup is Brazilian twist is the presence of coconut milk and the combination of chopped green onions and cilantro called cheiro verde (green aroma). The recipe calls for Brazilian-style fish stock, which can be made by following the instructions in the previous post on Flavors of Brazil. Even allowing for time to make the stock, this soup is quick and easy to prepare and is sure to appeal to anyone who loves fish and seafood.
RECIPE - Fish Soup from Ceará (Sopa de Peixe Cearense)
Serves 4

1/2 lb (250 gr)  boneless fish fillets from any white fish variety (halibut, cod, snapper, sole, etc)
4 cups (1 liter) Brazilian fish stock
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp cilanto, finely chopped
4 Tbsp green onion, green part only, finely chopped
1/3 cup (100 ml) coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan combine the fish, the fish stock, the potato, onion, cilantro and green onion. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook at a low boil until the fish and potatoes are very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Using a wooden spoon, mash the fish and potato cubes against the side of the saucepan until you have a rough puree. Do not over-mash, there should be some consistency to the soup. Season for salt and pepper.

Return to the heat and bring just to a boil. Remove heat, stir in the coconut milk and divide among four deep soup plates. Sprinkle additional chopped cilantro over to garnish if desired. Serve with thick slices of peasant bread.

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

TECHNIQUES - Making Fish Stock, Brazilian Style

If you're cooking a dish that calls for fish stock, whether it's a Brazilian dish or otherwise, using fresh homemade stock makes all the difference in the world to the end result. Fish stock is not difficult to make, as some clarified meat stocks are, it's not expensive, sinceit uses parts of the fish that are often discarded, and it can be successfully frozen for defrosting when needed.

Almost all fish stews and soups begin with a fish stock, so most national and regional cuisines have some sort of traditional recipe for making stock. Obviously, those cultures which lack seafood entirely are not likely to have a traditional fish stock, but they are the exception to the rule. The basic idea is the same across all cultures - boil the portions of the fish that have the most concentrated flavor, like the head, the bones and the fins, in a large amount of water and then reduce the quantity of water through boiling to concentrate the essence of the fish. Variations do exist - in some cuisines vegetables such as carrot, celery and onion are added to increase the flavor, and in others wine is poured into the stock for the same purpose.

Brazilian fish stock (caldo de peixe) is quite basic. It doesn't include wine like the traditional French court bouillon does, nor does it emply vegetables. It's a simple, elementary fish stock, nothing but the essentials. Unlike some variations, however, it uses not only fish head and bones but also fish fillets. The resulting stock, once it has been reduced, is strongly flavored.

Since many Brazilian seafood soups and stews include other strongly flavored ingredients, such as coconut milk, hot chili peppers and dendê oil, a weakly-flavored fish stock would add nothing to the flavor profile of the dish. Flavors of Brazil suggests that when you are making a Brazilian dish that calls for fish stock, you follow the instructions below. If you do, the flavor of your dish will approximate much more closely the authentic Brazilian recipe than it would if you were using another recipe for fish stock.
Brazilian Fish Stock (Caldo de Peixe)
Yield - 1 quart (1 liter)

1/2 lb (200 gr) white fish fillets (do not use strongly flavored fish such as salmon; best choices are sole, snapper, cod, etc.)
1 lb (450 gr) fish heads, fins and bones (from white fish as above)
6 cups cold fresh water
Thoroughly wash the fish heads, fins and bones. Rinse the fillets. Reserve.

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot. Add the reserved fillets, heads, fins and bones. Reduce heat slightly and boil for 15 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface using a spoon or slotted spoon. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then drain the fish through a sieve or colander, reserving the stock.

Return the stock to a clean saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce by about 1/3, so that you have 4 cups of stock. If you want a clear stock, drain through a cheesecloth lined sieve. (Most Brazilian recipes do not require this step). Use immediately, or cool and keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.