Pork and beans the Brazilian way


Pork and beans are an age-old combination, expressed in countless ways around the world. Southwestern pinto beans refried in lard. Asian tofu with pork sauce. The all-American can of pork and beans. Wherever there’s pork and beans, there’s pork with beans.

Portugal’s feijoada (faysh-WA-da) spread to the furthest reaches of its empire. Each former colony’s version is built on a different bean: red beans in the Iberian motherland, white beans in Angola, kidney beans in Macao. But the world’s favorite feijoada is probably the version made with black beans.

The national dish of Portugal’s largest former colony, Brazil, is usually what we’re talking about when we talk about feijoada.

In any Brazilian restaurant in or outside of Brazil, from a swanky steakhouse to the eminently practical pay-by-weight buffet, there will be a dark, chunky vat of feijoada waiting for you. It isn’t glamorous, but it hits the spot.

The ascent of Brazilian feijoada began in slave quarters, urban slums and rural villages. Beans were used to extend the mileage of each precious scrap of meat and extract nutrients from bones. Over time, less desperate cuts, along with smoked meat and sausage, made their way into the dish.

I learned how to make feijoada from Edilson Oliveira, owner of Oliveira’s Steak House in Somerville, Massachusetts. His first and only question was, “With or without pig feet?”

I soon realized that when it comes to his feijoada, such flexibility is rare. I asked about adding other meats like beef to pork feijoada. He shook his head sympathetically. “Beef meat will confuse the taste,” he said. “It will make no sense.”

Oliveira’s feijoada recipe is one that any Brazilian would immediately recognize as an exemplary representation of this national art form. It’s a feijoada that breaks no rules, takes no chances, crosses no lines and contains no adulterants. A feijoada you could bring home to mama.

Most Brazilian meals are served with a shaker or bowl of cassava flour. This gritty powder, called farinha (far-EEN-ya), is hugely important in Brazilian food and culture.

Like feijoada, farinha began as a food-stretching method for the poor. It absorbs water from its surroundings and becomes a thick paste. A bowl of broth and a dish of farinha was a normal meal for the poorest Brazilians. In the same way beans can stretch the goodness of a chunk of meat, a few spoonfuls of farinha will stretch the goodness of a bowl of feijoada. But it isn’t just starvation food. Even well-fed Brazilians add farinha to many dishes, either plain or in its toasted form, farofa (fa-ROW-fa).

The manager of Oliveira’s, Victor Almeida, who’d been sitting with us in the crowded dining room, held up his phone so I could see the photo of Yoki-brand farofa.

“This is what you want it to taste like,” he said. He suggested buying both plain farinha and a package of Yoki — easily found online — so you have a reference for the farofa flavor when you fry it yourself.

While feijoada and farinha make a filling meal, on special occasions, a whole spread is built around feijoada. Feijoada completa (comb-PLAY-tah) includes fried greens like collards or kale, rice, orange slices and pickled vegetables.

Brazilians are known to take good ideas to extremes, and feijoada completa is no exception. It’s the Carnival of pork and beans.


Brazilian feijoada

Along the lines of “with or without feet,” the only room for improvisation in this recipe is the kinds of pork to use. There should be at least three types of pork, one of which is sausage, ideally linguica. Something needs to be smoked — preferably not bacon, unless it’s unsliced. A smoked ham hock is great. There should be meaty pieces, fatty pieces and a bone or two. A rib is an example of a cut that has meat, fat and bone. The recipe below gives one example of three types of pork that check all of these boxes.

Serves everyone, provided

there’s farinha

  • 2 pounds dry black beans
  • 1 pound pork belly
  • 2 pounds smoked ham hock
  • (bone included)
  • 1 pound sausage (linguica,
  • kielbasa or bratwurst)
  • 5 garlic cloves (smashed with
  • salt)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional accompaniments: farinha or farofa, collards, rice, orange
  • slices, minced onion for garnish

Add the beans to a large pot and cover with twice the amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook for about an hour, or 25 minutes in the pressure cooker, so the beans are soft but not mushy.

Meanwhile, brown the pork under the broiler, each type of pork in its own oven-safe pan. I use cast iron. Rotate the pans and stir the meat as necessary so nothing stays too close to the broiler for too long. The sausage needs the least time since it just needs to be browned on the outside. Cut the sausage into rounds, add the mashed garlic to the pan and cook the sausage and garlic on medium heat until browned but not burnt. Then turn off the heat.

When the meat is cool enough to work with, remove it from the greasy pans. Oliveira recommends leaving the melted fat behind, “Otherwise, it would be too heavy.”

Cut the meat off the bones and into half-inch pieces. Add the meat, bones, bay leaves and browned garlic from the sausage pan back to the bean pot, along with enough water to cover everything. Cook for another hour or two, seasoning with salt and pepper. The next morning, it will be even better — and thicker. It’s always OK to add water.

Serve with all the available fixings.


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