Tails of pigs, feet of boars, ears of hogs, tongues of oxen… It sounds more like the ingredients for a witches’ brew, than a recipe for the most famous stew in the world.
Brazilians from north to south have recognized Feijoada as one of the most delightful dishes of the country; and with the fast globalization of past decades, the bean-potion has secured its position among the world’s more refined palates.
The more modern recipes for feijoada call for dried beef, smoked pork, chorizo, pancetta, sausage and some exotic cuts of meat; but the variety of protein is absolutely up to the cook’s adventurous spirit.
Like everything else, the internet has revised the dish’s origins and history. It had been all but certain that the black cassoulet had his birth with the arrival of African slaves in Brazil. The slave owners would have fed them left-over meats and bones from their kitchen… inevitably conspiring for the creation of the exquisite stew. The disdain of the plantation’s owner, the triviality of black beans and the less-noble cuts of meat would have created the forever-more famous feijoada.
The most popular Brazilian dish remains the same – ingredients, texture and taste. Throughout the years we have deconstructed the complexity of this peasant dish over and over again, and nothing could debunk its extraordinary intricacy of flavors.
Most of us who embraced the wisdom of folklore were surprised, and in some cases disappointed to ‘google’ the whole truth about the bean stew. And some of us, who had learned it from the dusty and stale-aired truth-telling libraries of the past didn’t even bother with the vindicating “I told you so” that we deserved.
We have all confirmed with sadness the plausible contradictions of the legendary tales – after a fast ‘online’ search, it became clear that in times of Colonial Brazil there was not a less-noble-cut-of-meat in the whole territory. All parts of a sacrificed animal were dispatched with equal enthusiasm.
We understood that slaves were well fed, because they were considered expensive investments that needed sustenance to perform optimally. Also, many of them were Muslims, and would never eat blood or pork. We’ve examined, online, an imperial family’s butcher bill that includes tongue, liver, kidneys, blood sausage, brains and tripe making it, if nothing else, noble meat. We are certain, now, that the Brazilian modernists embellished the story of slavery perversity for a more memorable narration, and better fame than its more plausible origin: the French cassoulet.
The integrity of the famous Brazilian stew is still intact; its palatability still fit for kings. The combination of meats should still be cooked slowly and preferably the day before eating. We should always serve it with white rice, sautéed collard greens, sharp tomato vinaigrette and farofa (toasted cassava flour). The acidity of orange slices will fight the fat of every forkful.
In reality, the feijoada is more than a simple dish; it is a meal that should be consumed in the afternoons, amongst friends with lots of time for eating and shooting the breeze, as it was from the beginning.
Black Bean Stew – Feijoada
1 pound dry black beans
1 pound pork shoulder (large cubes)
2 pig’s feet, ears and tails (cut up)
8 ounces pork loin (sliced large)
8 ounces chunk slab bacon (sliced large)
6 ounces chorizo (chopped)
2 bay leaves
1 large onion (minced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 bunch scallions (chopped)
Hot pepper flakes to taste
sea salt to taste
oil and butter for sautéing
Rinse and soak beans. At the same time, if using any dried salted meat, soak it for at least 5 hours changing the water a few times.
Cook the beans on high heat, uncovered for the first 10 minutes (at first boil you might need to skim it for excess starch); lower the heat to medium, cover the pot and let it cook for another hour.
In a separate pot, cook the meat (minus the chorizo) on high heat for 1 hour. Use enough water to just submerge the meat.
Drain the cooked meat and add it to the pot with cooked beans; adjust the salt and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
In a skillet with oil, sauté over medium-high the onions and garlic; add the chorizo and cook it for 5 minutes. Add scallions and hot pepper flakes.
Remove a cup or two of the cooked beans from the pot and coarsely mash it. Return it to the pot with the bean stew to thicken the cooking liquid. Simmer it for about 10 more minutes, turn off the heat and let it sit covered at least 10 minutes before serving.
Remove the stems from each leaf; roll the leaves together and cut it finely (chiffonade). Sauté the cut greens in a skillet over medium heat with olive oil for about 5 minutes. (You should not need to add water, but if it starts to get scorched, you might add a little amount.) Turn off the heat; salt it sparingly and let it rest covered for five minutes.
(Best when made 1 day ahead)
Seed the tomato and dice it in a medium size bowl. Add chopped scallions, parsley, salt and hot pepper (vinaigrette should be spicy). Cover the mixture with rice vinegar and keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.
Sauté 1 diced white onion in a large skillet with olive oil and butter. Add 2 cups of tapioca flour and toast it for about 3 minutes on medium/low heat. Remove from the skillet immediately to let it cool.