Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Mocotó (Calf's foot)

Photo courtesy Come-se.
In technical terms the pedal extremities of a cow or calf, the cut of beef known in Brazilian either as mocotó (a word of Tupi-Guarani origin) or as mão-de-vaca (a Portuguese word meaning simply cow's hand) has been part of the Brazilian kitchen since earliest colonial times, when the first Portuguese settlers brought cattle to the New World. Mocotó is the bones, cartilage and meat making up the ankle joint of the animal and although in many cultures this part of the animal is discarded at the time of slaughtering or put to industrial use, in Brazil it is sold by butcher shops and in supermarkets.

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil with cattle in the holds of their caravels, they also arrived with recipe books containing recipes for mão-de-vaca.  Back in Portugual,  mão-de-vaca was primarily used to create rich, gelatinous and flavorful soups called caldos. In Brazil, they continued to make caldo de mocotó just as they had done in the motherland. It was particularly popular in Rio de Janeiro, and in the 19th Century, many cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro) didn't break their nightly fast with toast and jam or bacon and eggs. Rather they started the day with a healthy bowl of caldo de mocotó. Even today many of the small botecos and street-corner bars of Rio serve caldo de mocotó  at breakfast time and it's common to see customers drinking it from mugs or small porcelains bowls in these establishments first thing in the morning.

The presence of cartilagenous tendons in the ankle joint mean that  is very gelatinous - and in fact,  commercial gelatin can be made from this joint. Gelatin is a translucent, colorless and flavorless protein derived from collagen in animal tendons, skins and bones and is used as a gelling agent in many types of food. In candies, jellies, aspics and marshmallows gelatin provides a rubbery, semi-solid consistency that can hold other ingredients in suspension.

Besides eating caldo de mocotó, Brazilians take advantage of the gelatinous property of mocotó to create sweetened, flavored jellies called geleia de mocotó. Less commonly eaten today than previously, geleia de mocotó was a favorite childhood food of many modern-day Brazilians. Flavored with strawberry, or grape, or peach, geleia de mocotó could be spread on crackers, toast or bread, or even cubed and served as dessert - kind of like a readymade Jell-o. For many in Brazil, geleia de mocotó is one of the comfort foods of their early years and even though they might not eat it today, they still have a nostalgic reverence for it. Geleia de mocotó is also available unsweetened and unflavored - a relative of jellied beef consommee.

Next post, we'll publish a Brazilian recipe for caldo de mocotó. If you can find calf's foot, and if you can get over any cultural prejudices about eating the same, you'll find it's a wonderfully delicious and nourishing soup - and a perfect warm-me-up in cold weather.


  1. Great post! I had Caldo de Mocotó a few weeks back at a party laid on by my Brazilian aunt and uncle. Wow! It is amazingly rich and almost gummy. Maybe that doesn't make it sound nice, but it was delicious. So good in fact that I took some home in a tub. When I took it out of the fridge the next day it was set hard! Returned to its previous consistency and still tasted great after a couple of minutes in the microwave though :)

  2. Tom - Keep your eye out then for tomorrow's recipe for Caldo de Mocotó. You'll not have to go to the relatives for a refill then... You can whip up a batch at home.