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Feijoada


You'll need

500 gm dried black turtle beans (see note) 100 gm salted beef, such as plain beef jerky, thinly sliced 4 small pig’s ears (see note) 4 small pig’s trotters, split (see note) 100 ml (¼ cup) olive oil 1 onion, finely chopped 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 100 gm smoked pork, such as smoked ribs, separated, bacon, or smoked ham hock, diced 1 dried sausage (100gm), such as dried chorizo, sliced 2 dried bay leaves 1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley 1 large bunch kale, stems removed, thinly sliced Steamed white rice, orange segments, pork scratchings (see note) and farofa (optional; see note at left), to serve   Tomato Salsa 2 ripe tomatoes, diced ½-1 red birdseye chilli, finely chopped 1 golden shallot, finely chopped 2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced Juice of 2 lemons 80 ml (1/3 cup) mild flavoured olive oil Pinch of caster sugar

Method

  • 01
  • Pick out any discoloured beans, then soak beans in plenty of cold water overnight (discard any that float to the surface).
  • 02
  • Soak the salted beef in cold water in the refrigerator at least 6 hours ahead (12 if possible) of cooking, changing the water every few hours at least 3 times.
  • 03
  • Poach pig’s ears and trotters in a large saucepan of simmering water until tender but not falling off the bone (1-1½ hours; don’t overcook the cuts – they’ll finish cooking with the beans later).
  • 04
  • Meanwhile, simmer the beans in a large saucepan of fresh unsalted water until tender (around 1 hour). Drain, reserving cooking liquid.
  • 05
  • Heat 60ml olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add onions and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent (6-8 minutes).
  • 06
  • Combine cooked beans and 1.4 litres cooking liquid (reserve remaining to top up if necessary) in a large casserole or saucepan, add cooked and smoked meats, sausage, drained salted beef and bay leaves, and simmer gently, topping up with reserved cooking water if necessary to keep meat and beans covered, until beans start to break down and the collagen in the meat thickens the stew (1-1½ hours). Remove pig’s ears and trotters and, when cool enough to handle, remove their meat, coarsely chop it and return it to pot and add parsley.
  • 07
  • For tomato salsa, combine ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.
  • 08
  • Sauté kale in remaining olive oil in a frying pan over high heat until just wilted (2-3 minutes). Serve stew with sautéed kale, steamed rice, orange segments, pork scratchings, and the tomato salsa.

I've often been involved in discussions about which dish best represents Brazil. It's a tricky question. Ours is a very large and diverse country, with five radically different biomes, and a great many immigrant communities, the colonial Portuguese and slaves brought over from West Africa and Sudan notable among them. It's no wonder the question of a national dish is a topic that stirs up a lot of emotions among Brazilians, and a definitive answer remains elusive. 

But, for me, the dish that represents Brazil best is feijoada (fey-zhoo-ah-dah).A thick, steamy, hot, spicy stew of black beans and offcuts of pork, it's inexpensive and eaten widely with gusto. It speaks of Brazil not only in the sense that, like this country, it's a melting pot of cultures, but also because it can't be cooked in small portions; you have to make a big pot of feijoada and gather your friends for a big meal. Yes, friends, the cliché is true: Brazilians really are always looking for a reason to party.

Then there's the fact that there's no standardised recipe - we gather what we have at our disposal and roll with it, and that's very much in the spirit of jeitinho, the Brazilian way of getting a job done, regardless of what the rules may say.

The best-known story of feijoada's origin is that it was created by the slaves. Beans are cheap, and were a popular food in West Africa, and the only meat available to the slaves would have been offcuts: ears, feet, ribs, and the like. It was a dish designed to feed and fill up many people at a time, something that could readily be stretched out with the addition of whatever was to hand. It's also reminiscent of many dishes from Portugal, France and Spain, almost like a tropical adaptation of the cassoulet or the Portuguese favada - something, perhaps, that recalled home for the Europeans.

The stew should have a meaty, smoky and slightly salty flavour (smoked ribs, smoked sausage and smoked bacon are all welcome additions). Most important is the texture all those ears and trotters contribute a lot of collagen, so the stew should have a gluey feel, almost sticking to your lips as you eat. For me, the difference between a good feijoada and a great one comes down to the thickness of the stew and quality of the trimmings - sautéed kale, pork scratchings, farofa (toasted manioc, or cassava flour), with orange segments and the vinaigrette for freshness.

Unlike such international culinary cultural ambassadors as sushi, ceviche, pizza or even a good burger, feijoada hasn't travelled the world. Perhaps it's because, despite being a simple dish to prepare, it is almost a ceremony. It takes hours, if not days, to prepare, and no one does it alone. It's a process where people start the party during the cooking. The most traditional day to serve it is Saturday lunch, so we start on the Friday night, and drink a lot of Caipirinhas and cold beer with crunchy pork scratchings while we cook, and then we start the beans early Saturday morning.

The preparation and serving of feijoada are all part of the same good time, shared by everybody in the kitchen and at the table. It's a whole-day dish. We'll have some feijoada, go away, have a nap, come back and have some more, right into the evening.

Regardless of its origins, the truth is that feijoada is a dish that makes people happy. It's flavourful and appreciated by the rich and poor alike, breaking down all sorts of social barriers. It's a dish that anyone can eat at any time, it's loved by everyone, and in times of so much difference, it gives people reason to gather and enjoy some time together, as any good meal should.


At A Glance

  • Serves 6 - 8 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 6 - 8 people

Additional Notes

Black turtle beans are available from Asian supermarkets and online at Monterey Mexican Foods (montereyfoods.com.au). Pig’s ears and trotters may need to be ordered ahead from a butcher; ask your butcher to split the trotters for you. Pork scratchings are available from Asian supermarkets.

Featured in

Jul 2016

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