Monday, December 5, 2011

Portugal's Culinary Heritage - Cabidela

Yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil concerned the lingering influence of Portugal upon its far-flung former colonies; in particular, how traditional Portuguese ingredients, techniques and dishes have survived and flourished in corners of the world such as Brazil, Angola, Goa and Macau. In some cases, these dishes have hardly changed in the long time they've been cooked and eaten in their new homes in South America, Africa or Asia. In other cases, local indigenous characteristics and ingredients have been added or used as substitutes to create a new multi-cultural dish.

Both processes, the retention of characteristics from the original Portuguese recipe and the modifications required by different climates, different cultures and different ingredients can be seen by comparing recipes for a traditional Portuguese dish called galinha cabidela. This dish, or variations of it, can be found almost everywhere there were Portuguese colonies or where there are today Portuguese immigrant communities. The word cabidela itself is defined in a Portuguese dictionary as "the bodily extremities of poultry (wings, heads, necks and feet) as well as the liver and other organs of the same animal," and can be traced back to the 16th Century (the Golden Age of Portuguese navigation and exploration). In all Portuguese-speaking territories, however, the dish called galinha cabidela has come to mean a braised chicken (or other meat) cooked in a sauce made of its own blood.

Portuguese cabidela
A very typical recipe for galinha cabidela, probably very close to the original dish, comes from a Portuguese website called Sabor Intenso. (Click here for the recipe with accompanying video, in Portuguese) This recipe calls for a whole chicken, about a half-cup of chicken blood mixed with a small amount of vinegar to prevent clotting, onion, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, bouillon cubes and water. I don't imagine that the original medieval recipe included bouillon cubes, rather homemade stock was probably used. There is also one chili pepper in the recipe, which of course couldn't have been made part of the recipe until after the European "discovery" of the New World.

Brazilian cabidela
The standard Brazilian recipe (click here) is quite similar to the Portuguese recipe above. One difference is the substitution of lard for olive oil, probably because during the colonial period olive oil wasn't exported from Portugal to the colonies due to preservation problems and olive trees cannot grow in Brazil's tropical heat. Another change is the deletion of bay leaves (a European herb) and the substitution of cilantro, which grows very well in Brazil and is used extensively in Brazilian cooking.

Galinha cabidela is also found in Angola, once one of Portugal's main African colonies. The Angolan recipe for this dish (click here) retains the olive oil of the Portuguese original but adds tomato and green bell pepper to the mix and includes a small glass of white wine as well. In a nod to African tradition, the dish is given a hit of spice by the inclusion of an African hot sauce called piri-piri.

Goan cabidela
Recipes for galinha cabidela can be found even halfway around the world from Portugal, though in these cases, naturally, the dishes have undergone more significant modification. The dish is traditional in the former Portuguese colony of Goa, located south of Mumbai in present-day India. There however, it's more commonly made with pork or rabbit than it is with chicken, though the recipe still calls for animal blood. The Goan recipe also adds typical Indian ingredients such as tamarind juice, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and clove to give the dish a more Asian flavor profile.

And finally, even farther afield - about 7000 miles from Portugal as the crow flies, lies the tiny formerly-Portuguese enclave of Macau, now part of China. The standard recipe there is called pato cabidela not galinha cabidela, as it substitutes duck (pato) for chicken (galinha). In addition to the duck, the dish includes diced pork. Saffron and caraway seeds are added to the list of spices, the white wine of the Angolan recipe is repeated, and there are diced potatoes added to the dish.

But even in all the diversity of these regional variations, the basic "theme" of the recipe remains unchanged by time or distance. Meat, of whatever type, is seasoned and cooked in a sauce made with its own blood. That's the ur-cabidela and it and its numerous offspring are still served, and still loved, anywhere that has a Portuguese cultural heritage.


  1. Hmmmmm... Simplesmente delicioso!!! AMO, pena que apenas minha vozinha sabe preparar essa receita la em casa...Preciso aprender...

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