Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Magic Spell: Feijoada


If there is such a thing as a "desert island" dish, this is it. I could eat feijoada anytime, anywhere. I catch myself thinking about it just walking down the street. It is a perfectly balanced dish, the marriage of inky black beans, unctuous meat, and little else. If your soul isn't satisfied with a dish of it in front of you, well, I just can't help you.

The national dish of Brazil, this is traditionally peasant food, yet fit for a king; the kind of meal that tastes wonderful the day you make it, and only gets better as the flavors marry over the rest of the week.

And yeah, that's a pig's foot I'm holding in that first photo. Let's not waste a minute more -- conquer your squeamishness, grab a stockpot, and get ready to do some serious eating.

Makes plenty, but you'll eat it all...

2 Tablespoons Oil (Olive preferred)

1 Pig Trotter, split
1 Pound Stew Beef
1 Pound Chorizo
1 Pound Hot Italian Sausage (or, even better, Blood Sausage)
1 Pound Smoked Pork (Pork Neck is best)
5 cloves of Garlic
3 medium Yellow Onions
3 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and chopped
1 Tablespoon Pimenton (Smoked Paprika)
1 Tablespoon Adobo (or Kosher Salt)
1 teaspoon Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

2 Quarts Chicken Stock
2 Quarts Water
1 Pound Dry Black Beans

Muslin or Cheesecloth (optional, but will make your life easier)

Start by searing off each of your meats (except for the Smoked Pork) one at a time in the oil over medium heat. Be patient -- don't crowd the pot! You want to get a nice char on everything. If you have muslin or cheesecloth, after searing the pig trotters, tie them up in a little package. They're in here primarily to provide natural gelatin to the dish, and, if you have a secure package, you won't have to worry about picking out little foot bones later.

Meanwhile, take your garlic and onions and puree them in a food processor. Not chop, not mince -- puree. You want it nice and watery and as worked over as you can get it. Just turn the processor on and let it go to town for a minute or two.

By now, you should have all of your meat seared off. Let any excess fat drain off. From here, take your sausages and, using a sharp knife, slice them into small chunks.

As the meat sits, start cooking your onions/garlic in the fat left behind by the searing process. Feel free to add a touch more oil if needed. Scrape up all the little bits of cooked fond from the bottom of the pot and let everything get nice and brown.

Once the onions and garlic start brown, add in your smoked pork. The onions will continue to darken.

Once you are satisfied with the brownness of your onions (they should be deep brown, but not burnt), add in your chicken stock, water, the rest of the meats, the pepper, the pimenton, the adobo, and two of the jalapenos. Be sure to once again scrape up any burnt bits from the bottom of the pot.

Rinse your dry beans off in a colander, and pick out any rocks or grit. Add these to the pot as well, and stir to mix.

Turn your heat down to low, cover the pot, and let simmer for no less than two hours, stirring every half-hour.

After about two hours, the beans should be cooked through, and the meat should be fork-tender. The smoked pork, in particular, should be quite toothsome. Using a sharp knife and a cooking board, strip the meat from the bones, returning the meat to the pot. You can also toss the pig trotters at this time.

The dish is almost finished at this point. Skim off any excess fat. Next, either using an immersion blender (or removing two cups of beans and placing them into a standard blender), blend the beans until the sauce gets slightly thickened. Chop up your last jalapeno and stir it in. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Scoop into bowls, and serve with large wedges of sliced orange! The final product:

This is no harder than making any other stew -- in fact, it's easier. And yeah, this isn't exactly traditional, but feijoada has so many different variations that your version won't be any less authentic than anyone else's. For instance, purists will note that I skipped the use of farofa, the grainy flour often used as a sort of bread-crumb topping in Brazilian cooking. This is my feijoada. Yours will be yours. Give it a try. Trust that all these ingredients have a purpose, that they all come together in a patchwork of deliciousness. There is no better meal during these last few weeks of winter chill. Whip up a batch, and realize what you've been missing all this time.

Music: Eydie Gorme -- "Blame It On The Bossa Nova"


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