Cuscuz Paulista

No, it's not the North African couscous and not the cuscuz from Bahia and other northeastern states. This gorgeous and delicious dish from São Paulo makes for a spectacular centerpiece for brunch, according to my friend Steven Raichlen in Miami. Steven gave me this and other scrumptious Brazilian recipes a few years ago. My friends from Brazil serve it at parties, as part of a buffet dinner. It consists of an assortment of meats and vegetables, cornmeal (farinha de milho, a Brazilian variation on the theme. It comes in powdery flakes and can be found in Latino, Brazilian and Portuguese markets) and manioc meal. If you can't find manioc meal where you live, use bread crumbs instead. I promise to take a picture of a cuscuz paulista one of these days, so you can see how beautiful it looks.

For the broth:

1 pound chicken (breast or thighs)
1 clove garlic
1/2 small onion
1 bay leaf

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons oil
2 strips bacon, cut into 1/4 inch slivers
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)
1 small onion, minced
1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 ounces fresh mushrooms
1 8-ounce can green peas
1 8-ounce can cooked corn
salt and fresh black pepper
2-3 splashes Tabasco sauce

To finish the cuscuz:

2 large carrots
2 eggs
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 cup pitted green olives
1 cup manioc flour
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 1-pound bag cornmeal

1 8-cup soufflé mold or charlotte mold, the bottom lined with parchment paper, the whole mold thickly buttered

1. Cook the chicken and prepare the broth. Place the chicken in a small saucepan with the garlic, onion, bay leaf and water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Drain the chicken, reserving the broth. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and finely shred the meat. Discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium flame. Cook the bacon for 2-3 minutes to render the fat. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat. Add the garlic and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the tomato, tomato paste, parsley, scallions, and cilantro and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the mushrooms are limp. (I'm not a fan of mushrooms, so I leave them out.) Stir in the shredded chicken, chicken broth, green peas, and corn. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce. It should be very flavorful.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes. Boil the carrots for 6-8 minutes, or until soft. Refresh under cold water and drain. Cut the carrots into 1/4 inch slices. Simmer the eggs for 11 minutes, rinse under cold water, and shell. Cut the eggs into slices. Core and seed the peppers and cut into rings.

4. Arrange the carrot slices, egg slices, peppers and olives around the bottom and sides of the mold to form a decorative pattern. These are what you'll see when the cuscuz is inverted and unmolded. Chop up any remaining vegetables and add them to the sauce.

5. Add the manioc flour and herbs to the sauce. Little by little, stir the cornmeal into the sauce. The mixture should be just moist enough to hold together when you squeeze it in your fist. If necessary, add a little broth -- but not too much. The mixture should remain quite dry.

6. Spoon the mixture into the soufflé dish, taking care not to disturb the decoration. Pack the mixture tightly, pressing with your fists. The cuscuz can be prepared ahead to this stage and left at room temperature for two hours.

7. To serve, dip the soufflé dish in warm water for 30 seconds. Run a knife around the inside of the soufflé dish to loosen the cuscuz. Place a platter over the cuscuz and invert. Give the soufflé dish a little shake: the cuscuz should slide right out. (If you're a klutz like me and your husband isn't, like mine, ask him to do it for you. It always works.) Decorate the platter with lettuce leaves or sprigs of parsley and serve at room temperature. To serve, cut the cuscuz into slices, like a cake.

Maria's Cookbook