Book review: Brazilian Food, Thiago Castanho

As host of this summer's world cup and next year's Olympic Games, it's no surprise to see Brazil's chefs cashing in on the world's attention - so I was intrigued to see whether there was any substance behind Thiago Castanho's latest offering, "Brazilian Food".

The book is certainly beautiful, capturing the essence of Brazilian culture with its evocative photography of vibrant street food, churrascaria barbecue restaurants and amazing seafood from the rivers and Atlantic ocean.

It's also an education. As somebody with a borderline food obsession, it's rare to come across such an unexplored cuisine - my previous experience being limited to the odd caipirinha... The book is filled with dishes I've never cooked before (fish skin crackling anyone?) and ingredients I've never even heard of (jaboticaba?).

With two restaurants, including one of "Latin America's 50 best", 26 year old Thiago Castanho grew up in the Amazonian region of Brazil. This means he, and the other contributing chefs, have access to the world's most abundant larder - which is certainly more exotic than my local Sainsburys or Waitrose. Combine these unusual ingredients with a food heritage that takes from Portugese, African, Italian and Japanese cooking and the results are spectacular. Ultimately though, even a keen cook will struggle to source everything needed for these recipes - however, they will be rewarded with an insight into a truly unique cuisine.



Torresmo de peixe com molho de acai 

Fish crackling with acai

Serves 4

Fish crackling

  • 500g fish skin, from small lean fish
  • 150g coarse rock salt
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
  • sea salt flakes

Acai juice

  • 100g acai pulp
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • salt, to taste
  1. Clean the fish skin removing the scales, Prepare a brining solution with the rock salt and 500ml of water in a bowl. Soak the fish skins in this liquid for 20 minutes.
  2. To make the juice, mix the acai, lime juice and sugar together with a pinch of salt.
  3. Bring some water to the boil in a saucepan. remove the fish skins from the brine and scald them briefly in the boiling water. Drain and cool.
  4. Using a sharp knife, remove any remaining flesh from the skins. Cut the skins into 10cm squares.
  5. In a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan, preheat the oil to 180C. Use the kitchen paper to thoroughly pat dry the squares of fish skin. Working in batches, deep-fry the squares until they crackle.
  6. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with sea salt befoe serving with the acai juice.

Recipe taken from "Brazilian Food", Thiago Castanho, Mitchel Beazley, 2014

Book review: Pie, Dean Brettschneider

As a man frequently on the receiving end of "who ate all the pies" football chants, I am particularly qualified to express an opinion on this latest offering from self-titled "global baker" Dean Brettschneider. 

PIE tells a story that started with filled Egyptian breads before being influenced by Greek, Roman and Medieval bakers and then French culinary superstars such as Antonin Careme. Together, they have all contributed to a dish that is equally at home in roadside cafes as fine dining restaurants around the world.

Cooking is an art and baking is a science - making pies is a combination of both

The eclectic range of recipes in the book reflects the antipodean roots of the author, with everything from "mince and cheese" to "spicy monkfish".  It does, however, miss some of the northern hemisphere staples that you might expect to see in a definitive work - a killer chicken and mushroom wouldn't go a miss, nor would the definitive steak and kidney. Despite this, there are enough classics to inspire any true pie lover. In fact, Brettschneider's Melton Mowbray style pork pie has already made me a picnic God in the eyes of my family and friends.

My pork pie efforts...

As with many genre-specific cook books, there is a tendency to stretch its scope. I struggle to agree that a cheesecake strictly meets the brief, even tarts are pushing it for me, and whoever decided ginger biscuits deserved to make it into a pie based bible should be slowly beaten with a rolling pin. However, even I have to admit they all taste delicious and look amazing in the mouth watering photos that accompany them.

This book is a great reference manual, clearly explaining how to make every type of pastry you might ever need, as well as other foundation recipes such as creme patissiere that every cook should have in their armoury.

Richard Bertinet described PIE as "mouth watering and clever", and he has a point - but as far as I'm concerned it's worth buying for the pork pies alone.