Saturday, June 4, 2011

Porto Alegre's Spring Chicken - Galeto al Primo Canto

Since Flavors of Brazil has spent most of this week in the far northern reaches of Brazil, with posts about the markets, seafood and fruits of the Amazonian rain forest, we thought it might be fun to take a virtual flight south, nearly two thousand miles by air, to the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, and its capital Porto Alegre. That's the equivalent distance north-south of a flight from New York to Aruba, or from London to the Canary Islands.

The south of Brazil is a very different place from the north of the country. The climate is temperate with distinct winter and summer seasons. The bulk of the population has its genetic roots in Europe (Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain) rather than in the New World or Africa. Even the way southerners speak Portuguese is different, with a unique accent and local vocabulary. And naturally the food is worlds away from the exotic fish, meats and fruits seen in the Ver-o-Peso Market in Belém.

Porto Alegre, despite its name which means "Happy Port" in Portuguese, is not a maritime city - it's located on a lagoon and is about 40 miles from the open sea. The food of Porto Alegre, therefore, is characterized by its dependence on meat and poultry as a protein, not on fish and seafood. Additionally, the immigrant communities of Rio Grande do Sul arrived with their culinary memories of Europe in their baggage, so German, Italian and Spanish-derived dishes predominate.

One dish that that displays these characteristics - probably the most famous local dish in Porto Alegre - is called Galeto al Primo Canto. Galeto is the Portuguese word for a very young chicken, slaughtered when less than a month old. In French, this type of young bird is known as "poussin" and in English, it's called a spring chichen (as in the expression "He's no spring chicken.") The remainder of the name (al primo canto) isn't Portuguese at all; it's Italian, and it means "at first song." It was Italian immigrants who created the dish in Brazil, and they used young chickens in place of small wild songbirds that were cooked the same way back in the mother country.

The preparation of Galeto al Primo Canto is simplicity itself. First, the chicken is spatchcocked - that is to say, the backbone and sternum are removed, and then the bird is flattened out. Next, the bird is marinated overnight, and finally, it is either charcoal-grilled, rotisserie-grilled or pressed between two hot griddles to cook. It is served normally with a simple lettuce-and-tomato salad and a side of spaghetti with tomato sauce.

In our next post, we'll feature a recipe for Galeto al Primo Canto from one of Porto Alegre's most famous shrines to this dish - one where the owners estimate they've served more than 2.5 million portions of this dish in the 40+ years that they've been open.