“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you a man.” These words, this motto, attributed to Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit Order, implies that our foundation years are our most important. When you live somewhere long enough, especially in your formative years, the culture, food, music and spirit get in your blood and are forever part of who you are. Our daughters were not quite two and four when we moved to Brazil. We left when they were six-and-a-half and almost nine so Brazil is that way for our family. In our blood, forevermore a part of who we are.
Tonight we enjoyed the quintessential Brazilian meal. We started with caiprinhas, then picanha (top of the rump) well-salted and grilled over an open flame, chicken hearts cooked the same way, farofa, molho, black beans (so now you know we lived in the Carioca region) and rice.
Beans and rice are staples of the Brazilian daily diet but the type of bean depends on the region you live in. Around Rio de Janeiro, where the people are called Cariocas, the bean of choice is black and food is not cooked or served with much pepper. Up north in Bahia, the African influence is more obvious and the bean of choice is light brown, like a pinto bean. There, peppers are used liberally in most dishes. Down south, closer to Argentina, the Brazilians might well have blonde hair and blue eyes because they are descended from Germans and Italians, and they also favor brown beans but not spicy like the Bahians.
The molho, which means sauce, is by far the simplest dish. Three major ingredients: tomato, bell pepper (green capsicum) and red or purple onion, all finely chopped. It also has a simple dressing of olive oil, freshly squeezed lime juice, sea salt and black pepper.
The black beans are traditionally made in a pressure cooker, which keeps the beans relatively whole. They are seasoned with sea salt, pepper, garlic and a variety of smoked pork parts. Tonight I used bacon and sausage.
Chicken hearts should be cleaned of the membrane and most of the fatty top should be cut off. Leave a little fat as it makes the barbecue flames rise up which gives the hearts a lovely crispy exterior. Marinate these in some sea salt, white vinegar (or lime juice) and olive oil. Grilled over the open flame of a barbecue, there is no morsel more succulent.
Farofa is toasted manioc flour. This is hard to come by in the rest of the world and my last couple of bags (kept fresh in a Ziploc bag in the freezer) come from a little Brazilian specialty store on the west side of Houston, Texas. Farofa is an acquired taste, a little like bacon flavored sawdust. Although the bag says Farofa Pronta, which means Ready, I fry a little bacon and add garlic to the pan before tossing the farofa around in the mixture. Traditional Brazilians would add butter as well but I could already feel my arteries hardening in anticipation of the meat. Very tasty sawdust indeed!
The showstopper of the meal is the picanha, top of the rump with a healthy (or probably unhealthy, I suppose) layer of fat. This should be liberally coated with coarse salt an few hours ahead of time, and then roasted over an open fire until just pink inside. (Knock the salt off as you cook it.) Once again, this is a hard cut to find outside of Brazil, but if you know a good butcher in your town, he or she should be able to provide you with the piece you need. Some butchers are unwilling to cut the top of the rump off and then you have to buy the whole rump, but make some stew or a curry with the rest of it. It’s all good.
When this happens, put the lid on quickly!
Beautifully done.All thanks to our experienced grill chef!
And last but not least was the first thing we enjoyed. Caiprinhas! Each glass has the juice of one whole lime so you know it’s healthy. Certainly you will not be in danger of scurvy. Cut the lime into quarters and use your same sharp knife to remove all the seeds you can. Put the lime into a short glass, adding two good tablespoons of sugar.
Smash the limes with a muddler – if you are fortunate you have a lovely parrot one like mine : ) –
and fill the glass with crushed ice. Now fill up the glass with cachaça and give it a quick stir. Ideally you would have short straws to put in these glasses. Sadly, I did not.
I know I have not given explicit ingredients or instructions today. Blame the caipirinhas. You really want to know how? Write me a comment and I may be inspired to write it all down.
The whole meal!