Thursday, May 24, 2012

Barreado - Paraná's Iconic Claypot-cooked Beef

A sealed barreado pot
We've been talking a lot recently at Flavors of Brazil about pressure cookers, and how they are a common feature of contemporary Brazilian home kitchens. It turns out, though, that the tradition of using pressure and steam vapor to cook and tenderize tour cuts of meat in Brazil predates the invention of the pressure cooker itself.

In the southern Brazilian state of Paraná there is a well-known traditional dish called barreado that uses a hermetically-sealed clay pot to achieve the same results that a pressure cooker does. There are various theories about who created the dish and when, some saying it was native Amerindian tribes and other attributing the dish to tropeiros, colonial donkey-caravan traders. What is not in doubt, though, is that the technique is very old.

Barreado is basically a meat stew thickened with manioc flour and served with slices of banana. Barreado must be cooked in a clay pot for a long period of time over low heat - preferably the coals of a wood fire. To seal the pot, cooks first make a thick paste of manioc flour and water and then apply that seal to the edges of the pot's lid to ensure that vapor cannot escape. The seal is renewed as needed during the long cooking period, which can be as long as 12 hours. Some 19th Century recipes call for barreado to be cooked for at least 24 hours, though there is probably very little reason to extend the cooking time that long.

Because of the long cooking time in a moist environment even the toughest cuts of meats are rendered fall-off-the-bone tender. To serve barreado, the meat is lifted from its broth and is shredded, while the broth itself is thickened with manioc flour to create a thickened sauce called a pirão. The meat is served on a bed of pirão and is garnished with banana slices. Cachaça is the drink of choice when eating barreado.

Barreado is associated with the coastal region of Paraná, particularly the small community of Morretes located in the state's litoral. On weekends thousands of tourist from the state's capital, Curitiba, and from further afield swamp the small town of only 15,000 residents and fill its restaurants in search of a plate of barreado. For many of them it's a reacquaintance with a treasured dish from their past, for others it's a new experience that connects them to the culinary history of Paraná.

Next time round, we'll post a recipe for make-at-home barreado.

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