Ah, Feijoada: the national dish of Brazil, straddling the culinary and cultural tectonic plate boundaries of Africa, Europe and South America. Possibly the stoutest meal you’re likely to encounter, and enough to give any vegetarian a dose of the cold shivers.
Feijoada marries the southern European / Romance tradition of slow-cooked pork cuts and beans, but with the addition of west African and Amerindian flavours and techniques. It’s often described as originating from slave fare (the story being it was made up of scraps and offcuts of meat that plantation owners disregarded), but like many classic dishes comes loaded with myths and romanticised stories of its origin. Regardless, it reflects the melting pot culture of modern Brazil, which perhaps explains its extraordinary popularity across generation, class, race and region.
I vaguely remember reading about feijoada many years ago, amongst a glut of facts about Brazil gleaned from geography schoolbooks. At the time it didn’t really register…as a teenage boy I was focusing more on images of the impossibly gaudy and glamorous Carnaval and sugar cane-fuelled cars than meat-heavy dishes. A few years ago, as part of an impromptu South American-themed meal, a good friend brought her own version of feijoada, and that sparked my interest. Ever since I’ve resolved to make my own.
Regular readers are probably spotting a pattern here: yet another dish pairing pork products and pulses, and another opportunity to indulge in the joys of black pudding. Well yes, guilty as charged. And having access to some superb rare-breed pork from our friends at Porcus, I’m inclined to work my way through the world’s greatest pig ‘n’ bean dishes, one by one.
When it comes to feijoada there are a plethora of recipes out there. My well-thumbed go-to-guide for South American recipes, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi’s ‘The Art of South American Cooking‘, suggested one needs at least five types of pork in there, including the snout. Others suggest a bit of pork belly and sausage is enough. In the end I ploughed my own furrow, referencing recipes from the ever-enjoyable Flavours of Brazil blog and a smattering of others.
I’d previously procured a Tamworth tail and trotters (being able to source a pig tail generally points to it being raised ethically, as sadly most intensively-farmed pigs have their tails cut off) and had also set aside some artisan chorizo from the fabulous folk at Levanter Fine Foods. After visiting Miss South in Brixton, allowing me to pick up some genuine morcela de lamego from the wonderful Continental Deli on Atlantic Road, I was as ready as I’d ever be.
Here’s the final recipe: it took a day of preparation and cooking, but believe me, it was worth every minute.
Makes 6-8 portions
All measures and weights are approximations only
- 1 pig’s tail
- 4 pork trotters
- 1 portion of pork belly
- 1 chorizo
- 1 morcela / morcilla or black pudding
- 500g beef brisket
- lard / rendered pork fat / chorizo fat
- 100g pancetta / bacon
- 1 bunch coriander
- 5 scallions / spring onions
- Bay leaves
- ½ cup dry sherry (in place of cachaça)
- 2 red onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- dried black beans
Scrub the tail and trotters to get rid of any dirt, then cover in well-salted water and slowly simmer for 4 hours. Remove from the water, let it cool, then remove any meat from the trotters, while retaining the skin, fat and bones. This forms the basis of the stock for the main dish. Discard the water from the first stage, then simmer the leftovers in fresh water for at least an hour to form a glossy, fatty stock. Reserve this.
Tie the scallions and coriander together in a bunch and add to the bottom of a large pan (this pan is what you’ll use for the preparation of the main dish, so make sure it’s large enough to accommodate everything). Add some bay leaves, the dry sherry, and cover with the black beans. You’re creating a mattress of beans for the meats to sit on. Add the meat cuts and sausages whole (beef brisket, pork belly, chorizo and morcela) then cover with the stock. Leave this to simmer gently for a couple of hours.
Drain the liquid off, and reserve it, gently removing the meats, while keeping the black beans in the bottom of the pan. Leave the meats to cool down… then cut into bite-sized chunks. Meanwhile take your lard / chorizo oil and heat it over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the chopped pancetta pieces, and fry them until browned and crisp, then add the chopped onions and garlic. While that’s sizzling happily, take half a cup or so of the black beans and whizz them up in a food processor until they’re a paste. Mix this in with the onion and pancetta mix, then add all this to the bottom of the main pan, along with the while black beans you left to cool. The pulsed pulses will help thicken the final liquid. Mix it all up in the pan.
Add the chunks of meat to the pan, then the reserved liquid. At this stage I added the pig tail back into the pot, more for show than for taste, then left everything to heat through thoroughly. It’s a good time to get the accompaniments in place. Some long-grained rice and greens is essential. I cut a couple of corners on the sides though – serving up a helping of locally-foraged wild garlic rather than collard greens or kale, forgoing the farofa (manioc) and a hearty slice of orange – and swapping the capirinhas for a bottle of Estrella Damm’s Inedit.
I shared the first serving with a good mate, the ex-vegetarian who’s embraced my carnivorous experiments with aplomb. Whilst he was a tad freaked out by the pig tail, we both devoured the dish. The taste is actually quite mellow and subtle – so I added some hot sauce on the side – but the whole dish is wonderfully porky, beany and rich. Seriously good stuff. An hour or two afterwards I realised we should’ve more closely followed the advice to eat this at lunch though… it’s a bit heavy for an evening meal. Over the next couple of days it provided a wonderful lunch though, providing more complex flavours as it matured, and setting me up for the rest of the day.
This gets pretty close to being an archetypal North/South Food dish… some of our favourite flavours and ingredients; relatively cheap cuts, prepared with love and cooked slowly; and mixing up local products with more exotic flavours and techniques. Having made it once, I think we’re due a revisit soon; next time sourcing more of the cured meat from the fantastic range of Portuguese and Brazilian delis in Miss South’s corner of London, while keeping the Pennine provenance of the fresh cuts. Might even smoke a couple of ears and a snout for good measure too. And I definitely want to share it with Miss South over a few caipirinhas on a lazy, sunny afternoon. Roll on the summer time, so we can give this another go!