Friday, October 29, 2010

Salpicão - Brazil's chicken salad

In Brazil, any time you walk along the line of dishes at a buffet, whether it's a wedding reception, a birthday party or even a standard self-service restaurant, one dish you can assume you'll find among the choice of salads and cold dishes is called salpicão. Salpicão is to the Brazilian buffet table what molded-jelly salads were to church basement suppers in the USA and Canada in the 50s and 60s - ubiquitous and omnipresent. It is basically Brazil's version of chicken salad, and as such has multitudinous variations and takes on a central theme - cooked and shredded chicken mixed with some fruits and vegetables, all bound together with mayonnaise.

Like the little girl who had a little curl, it can be said of salpicão that when it is good, it is very, very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. And also potentially dangerous, for any mayonnaise-based salad that isn't properly refrigerated in Brazil's hot climate can turn bad almost instantaneously. I tend to avoid salpicão in commercial establishments for this and other reasons, but have eaten some wonderful versions in home buffets.

Less appetizing and cheaper versions of salpicão tend to load the mixture with a lot of canned corn and canned peas, whereas better ones feature more chicken meat and fresh vegetables and fruits. Although the number of recipes for salpicão is unlimited, there are, however, a few must-haves to make it a true salpicão. First, there has to be fresh fruit in the mix, usually diced apples but sometimes pineapple. Second, some sort of dried fruit much be added. This is usually raisins, but I've also seen chopped dried apricots. And finally, the salad must be topped with packaged commercial shoestring potatoes (sorry!) If you don't have these things, it's not really a salpicão at all.

In the next post Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a typical recipe for salpicão. If made at home with good ingredients and a light touch on the mayonnaise it can be very good indeed.

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