Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What the Duck? Untangling Patos and Marrecos

Although chickens are by far the most-commonly consumed poultry species in Brazil, just like everywhere else, they aren't the only birds that end up gracing the Brazilian dinner table. In certain regions of Brazil, for example, guinea fowl (capote or galinha d'Angola in Portuguese) are highly valued for their it's-chicken-but-it's-not flavor and are an important ingredient in traditional cooking. In fancy restaurants in Brazil's metropolises you can sometimes find squab (pombo) on the menu. Goose doesn't really have a place in Brazilian kitchens, perhaps because it's fatty richness is a bit overwhelming in tropical heat.

One bird that bridges the gap between traditional, countryside cooking and contemporary gastronomy in Brazil is the duck. Ducks can be found waddling around the simplest homestead in the backland - easy and cheap to raise - and end up roasted or stewed without fuss or muss. At the other end of the spectrum, magret de canard is considered the ne plus ultra of haute cuisine in Brazil, just as in France or the USA.

The Portuguese word for duck is pato (as in Pato Donald, the Brazilian name for Donald Duck). However, in supermarket freezers, in the pato section, one will often find something that looks an awful lot like duck but which isn't labelled pato. Instead, it's called marreco. If you ask the clerk or the market's butcher what the difference is, he or she is likely to say there isn't any - that pato and marreco are the same thing. Asking Brazilian friends the same question will get you the same response.

But, as Flavors of Brazil has found out, patos and marrecos aren't the same thing, though they are very similar. Since Brazilians are as confused as anyone about what distinguishes these two species, there are numerous attempts at disambiguation (that favorite Wikipedia word) of these two birds on Brazilian food and wine websites, in blogs and in Portuguese dictionaries. The majority opinion, which isn't a 100% consensus, is that, in the culinary sense, pato refers to the larger, white farmyard duck, the one known as a Peking Duck, and marreco is a smaller, more compact, brightly colored bird, often identified as the bird English speakers call teal.

In the kitchen, pato is considered to be fattier than marreco, and with a milder flavor. Marreco has a slightly gamier, wilder flavor and appeals to those who want a leaner bird. But Brazilians tend to use both meats interchangeably and Brazilian cookbooks will tell you that you can substitute one for the other in almost any recipe. We'll publish a couple of traditional Brazilian recipes for duck (or teal if you can find it) in upcoming posts on Flavors of Brazil.


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  2. Actuatty the white one ia the 'marreco' in brazilian portuguese, the 'pato' is this South american specie that looks like the european duck but doesnt do sound have look at What brazilians call pato