Sunday, August 01, 2010

Thrill from Brazil

I am deeply indebted to the early hominids. Why, you might ask? Well, aside from their discovery of tools, writing and the internet (yes, Al Gore is human, despite any indications to the contrary), they came up with the brilliant idea of the pot luck, gatherings where each family group brings a food item to share.

At a recent gathering of hominids in our back yard, my friend Judy, who lived in Brazil while her husband taught at a university there, brought a Brazilian dish from Sao Paulo called, naturally, Cuscuz Paulista. A savory dish made with cornmeal and mixed with meat and vegetables, it is steamed in a colander and unmolded onto a platter before serving.

Like the Italian timbale or, for that matter, my mother's molded jello salad, the outside is often elaborately decorated with sliced hearts of palm, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes or roasted peppers. And, as was intended, it elicited admiring "oohs" and "aahs" from the other members of our little taxonomic gathering.

Chicken Cuscuz or Cuscuz de Galinha
Adapted from Brazilian Cookery by Margarette de Andrade

Judy reminded me that cuscuz, like potato salad, differs from household to household, and ingredients can be adjusted to whatever you have on hand. It can also be made with chicken, animal meat, fish or shrimp, so have fun and create your own unique version.

For the cornmeal:
4 c. white cornmeal
1 c. boiling salted water
1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter or 1/2 c. olive oil (?)

For the cuscuz:
1 stewed chicken (or store-bought rotisserie chicken)
1 1/2 c. gravy or stock
2 or 3 malagueta peppers, pounded (optional)
1/2 c. melted butter or olive oil
1/4 c. parsley, chopped
Cornmeal mixture
1/2 lb. smoked pork sausages, fried, or leftover meat
1 lb. peas, cooked
1 10-oz. can hearts of palm, sliced
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
Olives, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Put cornmeal in shallow baking dish and place in oven for 5 minutes, stirring 3 or 4 times with a long-handled spoon so that the meal bakes evenly. As soon as the meal begins to turn a light beige, remove from the oven, sprinkle 1 c. of the boiling salted water over it, stir well with a fork and return to the oven for 2 minutes. The meal should then have irregular flakes. Add 1/4 lb. butter (or olive oil) and mix well.

Heat boned chicken with gravy or stock, add peppers, butter (or olive oil), parsley and correct the seasoning. Remove from heat, add cornmeal mixture, knead, then add sausages or leftover meat. If you can form a small ball with the mixture that will retain its shape, it is of the proper consistency. If it is too dry, moisten with more stock or water.

Traditionally made in a cuscuzeiro, a sort of large double boiler with perforations in the upper section, you can assemble your cuscuz in a medium-sized colander.

First layer: Oil the bottom and sides of the cuscuzeiro or colander and arrange sliced tomatoes, eggs and olives in a symmetrical design, along with a little of the meal mixture. [Judy included 1 tin of anchovies, which added its umami to the finished dish - KAB]

Second layer: Add more meal mixture, press against the sides and bottom, then cover with the peas, palm hearts tomatoes, eggs and olives and alternate with the meal mixture until all ingredients are used. Cover with a cloth napkin or top with a layer of fresh kale or collards.

Place an inverted cake pan in the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven, then pour in boiling water so that it covers the bottom of the saucepan or oven and comes halfway up the side of the cake pan. Place colander on top of the cake pan, making sure the water does not touch the colander. Tightly cover the pot and steam on top of the stove until the napkin is very wet or the kale and collards are cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove the napkin (or greens) and let the cuscuz stand for approximately 10 minutes. Unmold by placing a serving platter upside down on top of the colander and carefully flip them over. Lightly tap the colander to release the cuscuz. Remove the colander and garnish with slices of orange or more slices of hearts of palm. Serve with a bottle of Brazilian hot sauce, Tabasco or other pepper sauce on the side.


Unknown said...

What a beautiful dish! I would have never guessed there is so much more than meets the eye. Thank you for sharing such a unique recipe. Any chance you had wine with this? If so, I'd love to know what it was and whether it matched all the components in the dish.

Kathleen Bauer said...

We had a couple of French rosés, which were on the dry-but-not-too-dry side, which complemented it beautifully. I'd think an earthy Spanish white would be lovely, too.