Seems like Brazil had been on my mind as of late, and I am obsessed with Brazilian cuisine, for the moment.
Minas Gerais, which can be translated into English to mean General Mines, is a Brazilian state hemmed in by the surrounding states of Sao Paula, Rio de Janeria, Gioas, Bahia and Espirito Santa. Minas Gerais was formed mainly by colonists who searched for veins of gold that was discovered in 1693. The state owes its name to what was once thought to be an inexhaustible resource for gold, iron ore, magnesium nickle, diamonds, emeralds, quartz, and semiprecious stones too numerous to list. These abundant riches came from the naturally occurring itacolumite rock that can be found in great numbers in the region and were most likely the result of a meteor striking this areas millions of year ago.
The mineral rich center is Ouro Preto, once the seat of Minas Gerais government. The current state’s capital and largest city is Belo Horizonte, and is a major urban and finance center in Latin America, and is the sixth largest municipality in Brazil, after the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Brasilia and Fortaleza.
Minas Gerais is also known nationally throughout Brazil for its rustic and hearty cuisine. The multicultural basis for many of the dishes are the home cooks who reside in the small regional farmhouses that dot the countryside, and many of the dishes are prepared using locally produced vegetables and meats, especially chicken and pork. Traditional cooking is done using coal- or wood-fired ovens and heavy clay or stone vessels called “panela de barro”, carved from soapstone, making for a particularly tasty flavor. Even some restaurant chains have adopted these techniques and made this type of food popular in other parts of the country.
The one dish that stand out is the traditional meal of Frango com Quiabo (Chicken and Okra Stew) and it is beloved alike by everyone from Minas Gerais state.
Poet and novelist João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967) is considered by many to be one of the greatest Brazilian novelists of the 20th century. His best-known work is the novel Grande Sertão: Veredas (translated as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands). Some people consider this to be the Brazilian equivalent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Rosa ,who was from the state of Minas Gerais and enjoyed eating as much as he did writing –once said:
“…true patriotism is found in the sensuality of eating, in meals and desserts…[for me] it is that truly Mineiro main course; chicken stew with okra and winter melon gourd and polenta, a delicate dish, viscously sliding down like life itself, but dripping with chilli pepper”.
With that passionate endorsement, I think that you are going to love it too! Enjoy!
Frango com Quiabo
(Chicken with Okra Stew)
Yields 6 Servings
2 3 1/2 pound chickens cut into 8 pieces each, backs and wing tips removed
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon homemade seasoning with turmeric (or your favorite seasoning)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick)unsalted butter
4 medium onions, diced
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh hot chilli peppers
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 pound okra, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1/8 teaspoon preserved malagueta pepper oil or hot pepper sauce
Polenta, for serving (Recipe Follows)
Wash and dry the chicken. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the garlic, salt and pepper and refrigerate for 1 hour.
In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat and saute the onions for 5 minutes, until they are lightly caramelized and are golden yellow brown in color. Remove onions and set them aside.
In the same skillet heat the vegetable oil and olive oil over medium heat. When the oils are shimmering, add the chicken pieces and saute them until skin is crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and reserve.
Drain off the excess oil and reserve in a small pan. Add the chilli peppers and turmeric and sauté for 2 minutes.
In a large saucepan, add chicken stock and it bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to cook at a low simmer.
Generously coat a cast iron skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the okra and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 12 minutes to remove all the excess water from the okra. You will note that the gummy residue will stick to the side of the pan. Remove the okra from heat and set aside.
Add the chicken and the onions to the simmering chicken stock and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until pieces are cooked through. Add the okra and season with salt and pepper. Add the malagueta oil or hot pepper sauce and cook for another minute or two.
Serve the stew with polenta or steamed rice and an endive salad.
Polenta com Milho Cozido ( Polenta with Fresh Corn)
Yields 6 Servings
6 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups polenta
1 cup cooked fresh corn kernels
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Slowly add the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook and continue stirring for 20 minutes.
Add the corn kernels and cook for another 5 minutes or until the polenta is smooth and slightly stiff, like southern grits. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and the cheese.
To save time, if you are in a real hurry and starving, you can purchase pre-made fried chicken from your local grocery store and skip the frying of fresh chicken.
Okra, also called gumbo, Lady’s Fingers or bhindi can be left whole if they are small on side.
A chunky cornbread square would also be a nice accompaniment to this dish.
Traditionally, Frango com Quiabo made by the people of Minas does not use cilantro to flavor this dish. However,cilantro is used by home cooks who live along the coast.