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Mirazur in Rio de Janeiro

30 Nov

High-end gastronomy has been quite away from me, usually nothing more than a dream, for two main reasons: (1) I live in a small town, more than a few hundred kilometers from any restaurant that could be considered “high-end” and, (2) I usually don’t have the money to afford such a luxury.

Thus, it was with great enthusiasm I received an invitation from my brother-in-law Rodolfo to travel to Rio de Janeiro (around 1,800 km from my home) and meet the with the chef “Mauro Colagreco“, from “Mirazur” in Menton/Cotê D`Azur/France to what would be my first top class meal. No, I wasn`t invited for my cooking or blogging abilities (which in fact suck), but because Mauro and my niece Julia live together and they all know of my love for food.  So, there I went.

Mauro prepared a chef`s menu, with some of the creations that made the Michelin Guide recognize his talent and attribute a star to his cuisine. The dinner took place at “Olympe“, one of the best restaurants in Brazil and headed by the chef Claude Troisgros and his son Thomas.

Claude Troisgros (left) and Mauro Colagreco ready to start their work of art

This was the menu:

Colagreco's menu at the "Olympe"

Sorry, but I just can’t highlight any item of this superb menu, as all dishes were simply amazing. Every bite had a hidden surprise to my freshman taste buds. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites. Yes, I do. The first and the third courses.

Huitre

The first course was composed by fresh oysters that, by coincidence, were shipped from my home state, Santa Catarina, and are considered the best in the country. Every oyster was delicately wrapped by a thin pear sheet and laid over a pear cream with diced pears and onions and watercress sprouts.  You could taste the sea, the same sea I used to swim into during my childhood.  Of course this had to be one of my favorites, after all a real dinning experience is much more than just chewing.

My second favorite? The third course, a grilled jumbo shrimp served with 3 brazilian roots (sweet potato, cassava and the less known arracachaArracacia xanthorrhiza), some petals and watercress sprouts.  The sauce was simply fantastic, based on bone marrow. I could have eaten this all night.

Grosses Crevettes

These were my favorites. But let`s go back a bit, to the second course, a composition of asparagus in three different ways: green, white and sliced in a yogurt and orange sauce with lime and grapefruit.  I`m not a huge fan of salads, but this was light and the sauce dripped from heaven.

Salade D`Asperge

Fourth course was a stripped bass with yam pure and a foam of smoked clams.  Some of my friends elected this as the best course.

Poisson Sauvage

Than, it was time for the duck breast, with caramelized radish and sesame seed sauce. The breast was cooked to perfection and matched well with all other components, including a small package of confit (sorry, I was not able to identify the leaf wrapping – have to ask the chef next time I meet him).

Canard

A top chef is someone not always cooking his/her meals to perfection, but always trying to please and surprise his/her guests.  And Mauro did that by present a dish not on the menu, truffles on an egg yolk sauce.  I had tried black truffles before but, let me assure, it has little to do with these Alba babies.  The smell is pungent and unmistakable, as it is the taste. Only between you and me…I was not ready for that. I`ll have to train my palate much more before going into such delicacies (guess you understand what I mean).

White truffles

Time for dessert. The first was an almond foam with saffron cream and orange sorbet, and the second a cold chocolate truffle and glazed cashew nuts in a chocolate sauce with “mate” tea ice cream. Both out of this world.  The first was delicate and refreshing, the second with marked flavors, openly influenced by the chef`s birthplace, Argentina. I was much pleased by the second one, as mate is also a common drink in the southern regions of Brazil, where I happen to live.

Espuma D`Amande

Terre de Manjari

Overall an unforgetable experience.  Chef Mauro Colagreco demonstrated his skills and versatility, incorporating in almost all the courses typical Brazilian products, what coupled with the most unblemished technique, ends up in a festival of sensations I could hardly imagine.

Many thanks to Mauro for bringing Mirazur to Brazil.

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São Paulo Municipal Market

20 Sep

In almost every city of the world, from the largest ones (like New York, London or Tokyo), to the tiny villages hidden within the Amazon jungle, local populations always set up something like a “trading fair”, a location (or occasion) where locals come to sell, buy and trade the products of their labor.  In the smaller and most remote places these posts are usually not permanent ones.  People get together by the end of harvesting season, before the beginning of the winter, or even on more regular basis, lets say once a month or once a week.  These are opportunities to meet friends, dance, sing, and specially to eat and prepare yourself for the harsh times that may be arriving soon.  As the small towns become large cities, as the population (and its needs) increases, such places become permanent, originating central markets, which up to this day play key roles in the supply of food for people who no longer knows how to plant a tomato or to kill a chicken.

In São Paulo, by the beginning of the last century, when the city that today is the largest one of the southern hemisphere (population over 20 million) had around 1 million inhabitants, the municipal administration decided to build a Central Market.  The chosen location was on the banks of the Tamanduateí River, were most of the food-producing properties were located.  The building, today in the heart of the city, with 12,600 m2, holding around 300 commercial spots with 1,600 employees, still plays a key role in the supply of food and as a meeting point for the local population, not to mention that it’s an unmissable tourist attraction.

São Paulo Municipal Market (photo from http://www.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/)

One of the corridors of the São Paulo Municipal Market

Today the market has 4 main areas:

1. A delicatessen area, where you can find first quality products from all over the world, like Parma hams, Portuguese and Spanish olives, Norwegian cod, etc.

Delicatessen at the São Paulo Municipal Market

2. A fruit and vegetable area, where you can find tropical as well as temperate climate products;

Fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

Apples, guavas, figs and other fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

3. A butcher area, where you can find beef, pork, chicken, and almost any product of animal origin;

Pork anyone? A butcher shop at the São Paulo Municipal Market

And 4, a food court, were two dishes simply can not be missed, the Bologna sandwich and the cod “pastel”.

The food court at the São Paulo Municipal Market

The Bologna sandwich is prepared by placing, in a French style bread, thinly sliced hot or cold Bologna. It’s considered the most typical dish of the market.  Don’t leave withouth trying the hot version (along with a cold draft beer).

A Bologna sandwich (cold version) at the São Paulo Municipal Market

A cod "pastel" at the São Paulo Municipal Market

“Pastel” is fried fine pastry which may have several fillings, like cheese, ground beef, prawns and, the most famous one at the market, cod. For this preparation salted cod is left in cold water for a couple of days, boiled and then mixed with hot olive oil and spices.

Next time you go to São Paulo don’t leave without visiting the market in downtown and trying these 2 amazing dishes, the cod “pastel” and the Bologona (mortadela) sandwich.  I had both at the “Hocca Bar”, which is supposed to have the best cod “pastel” around (in fact they are the creators of this dish), and let me tell you, it’s really, really, really good.

Mortadella (Bologna) Sandwich on FoodistaMortadella (Bologna) Sandwich

New Year’s rainbow

6 Jan

According to the Wikipedia, the Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. Although this place is impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which depends on the location of the viewer, what is a perfectly prepared meal if not a pot of gold?  Thus, to make sure I’d reach this pot of gold on this new year I decided (after the suggestion of my brother-in-law Reynaldo, who in fact furnished all the ingredients) to prepare a rainbow trout with almonds.

Rainbow trouts (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are salmonids native of the Pacific Ocean, in Asia as well as in North America.  They were introduced in southern Brazil in the 70’s, in the central mountains of the state of Santa Catarina.  One of the pioneers in this process was Prof. Hélio Antunes de Souza.  In 1977, while college mates (we received our Biology degree together in 1978), Hélio decided to start some experiments with this species, and thus released some individuals in ponds he constructed in his father property at the margins of the Pelotas river.  Such experiments demonstrated the potential of these trouts to grow in those crystalline waters, and evolved to turn Prof. Hélio into the largest commercial producer of this species in southern Brazil.

The recipe of my trout with almonds is rather simple.  Take some fish filets, season with salt, sprinkle with paprika, and bake them in the oven for a few minutes (10-15 min will do).  Meanwhile heat 2-3 tablespoons of butter (for 2 filets) on a skillet and add some sliced almonds (about 3/4 cup).  When the butter starts to turn brown add a shot of Frangelico (an Italian hazelnut and herb-flavored liqueur).  Let it simmer for a while.  Remove from the fire, add 2-3 tablespoons of heavy cream and pour over the fillets.  That’s it.  I’m sure you have a pot of gold in your mouth as you chew through this rainbow.  A wonderful way to start 2010.

Rainbow trouth with Frangelico, butter and almonds

Rainbow Trout on Foodista
Trout With Almonds, Paprika and Frangelico on Foodista

A bit of Lindos, Greece

11 Dec

Around 50 AD St. Paul was sailing around the Aegean sea, more specifically along the coast of Rhodes, one of the Dodecanese islands, when his boat was caught by a terrible storm. He then sailed towards land and reached one of the most wonderful protected bays you will ever see. Today known as St. Paul’s Bay, in the village of Lindos, it is a unforgetable view, specially seen from the Acropolis, at the top of Lindos hills.

St. Paul's Bay - Lindos/Rhodes/Greece

St. Paul's Bay - Lindos/Rhodes/Greece

In the Greek hot summer, after reaching the top of the hills and enjoying such a marvelous view (I won’t even mention the Acropolis itself), if you are a normal human being, and not a saint as Paul, you should be thirsty as hell (even though I presume saints get thirsty too). One suggestion, don’t drink anything. Resist. Be strong. Walk all the way down and go to the Pallas beach. Walk, don’t ride the poor donkeys available for the lazy tourists.

Pallas Beach

Pallas Beach - Lindos/Rhodes/Greece

There you will find a couple of small bars/restaurants, and I guess any of them will do (I sat at the one with the blue roof right in the middle of the above picture). Then, order a bottle of ouzo (my favorite one is Plomarion, from Plomari, in the Island of Lesvos, the capital of ouzo), a tall glass filled with ice to the top and some mineral water, relax and enjoy, after all you’re in Greece.

Clearly, you won’t be able to drink ouzo for very long on an empty stomach, that’s when some seafood should be more than welcome. I ordered some squid, fried to perfection, with a very simple salad (tomatoes, onions and lettuce) with tzatziki (you can find dozens of different recipes on the web, this one here is very basic – use high quality yogurt).

Squid

Batter fried squid - Lindos/Rhodes/Greece

As you can see, the squid was covered with a nice looking batter, which I assume was prepared by mixing some seasoned flour with cold sparkling water, as it was filled with small gas bubbles, which usually form when a batter loaded with dissolved gases (what you achieve by keeping the temperature low), carbon dioxide in this case, gets in contact with hot oil and tries to leave the mixture. The final result is a very thin, crispy and flavorful coat, which does justice to a fresh squid such as this one. Nothing could go along better with your second, or third, or fourth….(how many???) glasses of ouzo.

Squid on Foodista
Ouzo on Foodista
Fried Calamari on FoodistaFried Calamari

Fish, dendê and coconut milk = Moqueca

8 Oct

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in the year 1500 they encountered a rich and varied indigenous culture divided in inumerous tribes, like the tamoios, tupiniquins, potiguaras, tabajaras, etc. Most of the Atlantic coast was dominated by the tupinambás. The culinary culture of these indians included the utilization of the “moquém”, a kind of grill made out of sticks and leaves, covered with ashes, and placed over the fire for cooking or grilling. The first known document describing the “moquém” is a letter of the Portuguese priest Luis de Grã, dated of 1554, where he states that when they wanted to eat human flesh the indians would grill them over the flames in a “moquém”. In 1584, another priest, Fernão de Cardim, comments that not only human flesh, but also fish and potatoes were used by the tupinambás in the preparation of their “moquecas” (something made in the “moquém”)

Tupinambás preparing human flesh with a "moquem" - Drawing by Theodore de Bry around 1540.  Notice the white man in the background: He's Hans Staden, who lived among the tupinambás after his ship sinked along the coast of São Paulo

Tupinambás preparing human flesh over a "moquém" - Drawing by Theodore de Bry (1540). Notice the white man in the background: He's Hans Staden, who lived among the tupinambás after his ship sank near the coast of São Paulo

During the first half of the XVI century, specially due to the lack of labor force required for the production sugarcane, the Portuguese started to introduce slaves from Africa, mainly in the northeastern part of Brasil. With them came several culinary ingredients and practices, among which the use of dendê oil. Dendê comes from a palm tree ( Elaeais guineensis) from the African coast, particularly from the Guinea region. The coconut (Cocos nucifera), on the other hand, also a palm tree from the areas bathed by the Indian Ocean, was taken to Europe by Portuguese travellers and later (around 1530) introduced in Brazil.

Coconut milk and dendê oil

Coconut milk and dendê oil

Mix all these ingredients, along with some extra onions (originally from Europe), tomatoes and bell peppers (both from Latin America) and local sea products, as well as such amazing and diverse culinary cultures (European, African and native Brazilian), and you have a real borderless dish, the “moqueca“.

The present day “moqueca”, which obviously is no longer prepared with human flesh, consists of layers of vegetables (diced or sliced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers) and of fish and/or shellfish (prawns, octopuses, squids, etc), in a clay pot sprinkled with dendê oil and coconut milk.

Moqueca - first layer (diced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers with some coriander)

Moqueca - first layer (diced onions, tomatoes and bell peppers with some coriander)

Moqueca - second layer, fish and/or shellfish (shark in this case)

Moqueca - second layer, fish and/or shellfish (shark in this case)

Moqueca - third layer (more vegetables with the added dendê oil and coconut milk)

Moqueca - third layer (more vegetables with the added dendê oil and coconut milk)

I prepared this shark “moqueca” a few days ago for a couple of friends. It’s not only easy to mount, but it gets ready in around 30-40 min over medium-low fire (a bit longer if the pot is too large). You can mount it ahead and take it to the fire (don’t forget the lid) after your friends arrive, while you are having a cold beer or a glass of white wine (we had a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, León the Tarapacá).

Moqueca on Foodista
Dende Oil on Foodista
Coconut Milk on Foodista

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