Monday, November 21, 2011

Carne de Lata - Brazil's Own Confit

Back in the days before a large majority of Brazilians had refrigerators in their home, people used other techniques for preserving foods. There are lots of ways to preserve food that don't involve cold temperatures - a good thing in a mostly-tropical country like Brazil. Smoking, pickling in vinegar or wine, preserving in sugar syrups, salting - all these techniques are important parts of traditional Brazilian cooking.

One additional way to preserve food, usually meats, that was popular in Brazil up to the middle of the 20th Century, has begun to make a comeback. The technique basically is to fry meat, usually some form of pork, in lard until most of the moisture is drawn out, then pack the meat into large jars, crocks or cans and pouring melted lard over to fill the container and seal the meat to prevent exposure to air. The meat is preserved in its own fat. Although the container might be glass or clay as easily as metal, in Portuguese the term used is carne de lata - literally "canned meat."

The technique is identical to the way that the inhabitants of southwestern France have always made their famous duck confit - the only difference is that the animal in question in Brazil is a pig whereas in France it's a duck. Both animals have large stores of body fat, so both are suitable for preserving in this manner.

Most of the production of carne em lata in Brazil historically was domestic - on farms where pigs were raised one was slaughtered every couple of months, the prime cuts were eaten fresh and the lesser cuts were preserved in fat. There were meat-processing companies that made canned meat on an industrial scale for people who didn't have their own animals to slaughter but who needed meat that could be stored at room temperature until consumed. Most of these companies were located in the states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo.

Recently there has been a surge in demand for carne de lata in Brazil. Just as in France, where duck confit has now found a place at the highest levels of gastronomy, Brazilian chefs are discovering just how good canned meat can be. Many of the chefs are making their own carne de lata, but others have gone back to the original industrial producers for the product. The result is that the original firms that made carne de lata, or at least those who survived the long drought during the second half of the last century, are now finding a renewed interest in their product and a large increase in consumption.

One of the best-known of these firms is named Xavante, from the city of Divinópolis in Minas Gerais. They sell carne de lata, in cans with appropriately retro labels, in sizes ranging from 500 gr (about 1 lb) to 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) behemoths. The product is even available for online purchase.

Here at Flavors of Brazil we find it comforting to learn about the return of carne de lata - it's honest food, made as it always has been (because of necessity originally, because of taste these days). It's just one more example of that truism - "Everything old is new again."

1 comment:

  1. Năm nào cũng vậy, mùa hè đến thì cùng với không khí nóng bức, tôi cũng mắc không biết cơ man nào là bệnh tật! Đầu tiên phải kể đến là việc làn da của tôi nổi loạn thực sự, mụn mọc khắp cơ thể, da dẻ lúc nào cũng nhớp nháp mồ hôi. Cùng với nó là cảm giác ngứa khắp người! Chính vì vậy mà tính nết của tôi cũng thay đổi hẳn. Mẹ gọi tôi là mắm tôm cũng bởi vì hễ có người động vào mình là tôi lại gào thét, dễ nổi quạu vô cùng. Ra hàng thuốc, ngoài các loại thuốc chữa mụn mà tôi thấy loại nào cũng càng uống càng thêm vô vọng vì mụn nhiều không xuể, thì các cô dược sĩ kê cho tôi rất nhiều các loại thuốc bổ thận mát gan. Khổ tôi, uống mãi cũng không thấy khỏi hẳn được.... Hè năm nay tôi về quê, cái nắng ruộng đồng còn gay gắt hơn ở thành phố. Tôi sợ nhà quê không có điều hòa mát mẻ, bệnh mùa hè của tôi lại càng trầm trọng. Tuy vậy, tôi đã nhầm...