Sailor Pedro Alvares Cabral arriving in Brazil in 1500, probably did not know his Portuguese crews were to be just one of the many waves of immigrants to leave their culinary footprints on this enormous land.
The Portuguese marched off setting up plantations in the fertile soil to grow and export sugar, coffee, dried peppers and other produce to the rest of the world.
While their colonization of Brazil was more benign than what took place in other parts of the New World, the Portuguese were responsible for bringing three million African slaves over to work the plantations.
The slaves brought their music and dance which had a deep impact on Brazilian culture.
And as many of the African women were put to work as domestic helpers, they had a significant influence on the cuisine of Brazil. For example, the old Portuguese standby of fish stew got a makeover with coconut milk, red palm oil and a kick of spicy pepper heat. By extension, they also influenced the menu in Portugal.
After gaining independence in 1822, Brazil flung open its borders. But when slavery was abolished 66 years later, the lure of work on plantations really amped up immigration, particularly from Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Italy.
German winemaking and Italian pasta making are indelible standouts, but the Europeans also brought sausage making and meat curing, the salting of fish, the frying of foods, baking and their love of desserts and spirits.
In the 20th century, Japanese and Middle Eastern immigrants had their turn. But no voice speaks louder on the Brazilian menu than the native bounty.
Corn, avocados, bananas, pineapple, coconut, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and many kinds of beans and nuts all come from the Americas.
The reverse influence of colonization is also interesting. Who can discuss Italian food today without talking tomatoes? Or polenta? Can you picture Spanish food without peppers or potatoes?
The Brazilian table today is rich with all these influences and ingredients. The menus are heavy on seafood and pork and bursting with fresh produce. At the Old 5Mile House, we’ve been enjoying this journey of discovery down the Amazon trail. But this month, we’ll be featuring this cuisine on the menu, such as Brazilian coconut seafood soup. For those who want to try their hand at Brazilian cuisine, try this recipe for bolinho de bacalhau, salt codfish fritters. Bom apetite!
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world.
Salt Codfish Fritters
1 pound salt cod
2 cups cold mashed potatoes (use leftovers if you’ve got them)
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine black pepper
6 whole cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup bread crumbs
Salt cod can sometimes be found at local markets or you can go on online - it ships well.
Soak cod in cold water for a day, changing water at least 3 times. Put mixer bowl in fridge.
After cod has soaked, put it in a stainless steel pot with fresh cold water with 6 cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. When cooled, brake apart fish with you hands and remove all bones, and any skin. Keep garlic for next step.
Pulse fish and garlic a few times in processor. Don’t puree it, you want some texture. Put fish, mashed potatoes, garlic, parsley, egg yolks, pepper and olive oil in a bowl and mix well. Whip egg whites in the cold mixer bowl to stiff peaks with the whisk. Gently fold whites into fish mixture.
Put bread crumbs in another bowl. Form mix into balls about 1-3/4” diameter and coat well with bread crumbs. Place them on a sheet pan and refrigerate. They should be thoroughly chilled before frying. Fry chilled balls at 375, ‘till golden brown and heated through. Drains on paper towels. Have them with a little lemon aioli or tarter sauce, some hot sauce and a crisp, cold beer.