AT THE COOKING CABANA: Celia Fora shares her Brazilian recipes.
Brazil isn’t all about major wax jobs and itsy-bitsy bikinis. It’s also about platters of balsamic-and-garlic-rubbed fried chicken, light brown toasted rice glistening with garlic oil, and “potato salad” that makes its German-American cousin seem like a painful bore. Meet Celia Fora, a Brazilian who works for my friend’s sister. With a smile that shifts her cheekbones and eyebrows into high gear, she launches us for the next couple hours into the flavors of Minas Gerais, the region where she’s from. In the end, she shows us: eat with your hands, scoop up the potato salad and rice with the planks of fried chicken. They’re particularly good eaten all together.
Brazilian potato salad
2 large handfuls green beans, sliced to half-inch lengths
2 carrots, peeled, cut into quarter-inch-thick quarters of a circle
2 large baking potatoes, peeled, cut into quarter-inch-thick quarters of a circle
1 cup frozen or canned peas
1 tomato, cut into quarter-inch-thick quarters of a circle
5 scallions, greens and whites cut into quarter-inch-thick circles
10 stems parsley, leaves and stems roughly chopped
a quarter of a yellow onion, minced
half-cup Spanish green olives, sliced
1.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 cup mayonnaise
Hardboil the eggs in one pot, and in another cook the beans, carrots, and potatoes in salted water at a low boil until they’re soft. The water should taste like soup. If it's bland, add more salt. Add peas to the boiling water until they are heated through. Strain the hot vegetables and spread them out on a cookie sheet to cool. Peel the hardboiled eggs, cut three into quarters and then in quarter-inch slices; cut the other three in quarters and reserve for the garnish. Mix the warm and cool ingredients together in a large bowl with the dressing ingredients. Spread the mixture into a casserole dish and garnish with egg, parsley sprigs, and whole green olives.
Balsamic-garlic rubbed fried chicken
6 large chicken breasts, sliced horizontally into eighth-inch-thick pieces
Wet-rub for chicken breast slices
8 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
tsp black pepper
a quarter teaspoon tsp dried oregano
1.6 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 cups milk
2 cups breadcrumbs
corn, canola, or peanut oil
Mix the wet-rub ingredients into a paste and rub over each piece of chicken with your hands, stacking rubbed chicken into a pile. Let them sit for 15 minutes (or longer in the fridge). Put the milk in a dish and the breadcrumbs on a large plate. Dip each piece of chicken in the milk, and then cover completely with breadcrumbs, pressing them into the chicken. In a 12-inch iron skillet, bring an inch of frying oil up to not quite the highest heat, and fry 4 pieces at a time until browned on each side. Dry in a colander lined with paper towels.
one-eighth cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, cut into quarters, then paper-thin slices
2 cups white rice
slightly less than 1 tablespoon salt
about 4 cups hot water
Warm up at least 4 cups of water in a teakettle. In a six-quart pot on medium high heat, sauté garlic in the oil for a minute. Add the rice and toast on high heat 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally until rice is tinged brown. Add hot water to double the volume. Stir. Salt the water so it tastes salty and cook on high, covered, then lowering to low-medium, loosening the cover, adding more water if necessary until the rice is cooked.
Celia Fora’s knife and hot-water tricks
Slicing chicken breast
Fora presses her palm firmly on top of breast. With the other hand she slices one-eighth of an inch underneath her palm through the chicken horizontally so that she ends up with thin slices of breast. I’ve seen thinly sliced turkey breasts that look similar at the store, but isn’t it refreshing to learn: people, you don’t need a butcher or a machine to do this for you! And this isn’t just for turkeys! The crispy, thin plank shape is key to this recipe’s delightful, refreshing appeal.
She minces an onion like no one I’ve ever seen: in her hand. In one hand, she holds a peeled onion, the ends of which she’s cut off. With a giant knife in the other hand she whacks at the top of the onion in all different directions really fast. Over a bowl she slices the whacked-at part so that minced pieces fall in. I’m not encouraging this method. I’m just saying: it was amazing.
Tasting hot liquids
Brazilian grandmotherly types — or is it just Fora? — are cheerfully tough, which is, I think, the toughest kind of tough. Here’s how she tastes the potato-carrot-green bean-water (for the potato salad) to see if it has enough salt. She fills a mixing spoon with boiling water, pours it directly onto her palm, and then licks her palm. I tried it and it hurt. It didn’t leave a burn, though. The key is to do it very fast. Drip-lick. Like that. Then (likely) add more salt, or nod if it’s just right.
Lindsay Sterling can bereached email@example.com.