Why It Works
- Using parboiled rice, rinsing it to remove surface starches, and toasting it briefly in the hot oil to reduce starch gelling ability all help to ensure the finished rice isn’t gluey or clumpy.
- This is a truly simple and comforting chicken-and-rice dish, and success lies in properly developing and layering flavors: browning the chicken well, blooming spices in oil, and ensuring even seasoning of salt throughout the dish.
The idea of stretching foods is known to every cuisine in the world. In Brazil, galinhada holds that idea right in its name. «Galinhada means a group of chickens, but the dish itself is usually just one chicken,» my friend Tuzinho de Melo, who grew up in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais where this version of the dish comes from, tells me. That chicken—the galinha—gets stretched in a single pot, its flavor infusing the ample rice and vegetables with which it cooks, to form a dish that is far more ample and filling than the bird alone.
And that really is the heart and soul of galinhada, to make the most of a single chicken, whether to feed the farmhands coming in after a hard day in the fields, friends and family for a Sunday lunch, or to welcome a guest with a generous plate of undeniable comfort. Because it’s a relatively simple dish, success with galinhada relies on building layers of flavor and seasoning properly.
«I think it’s all about the salt, garlic, and onions,» Pedro Ávila, another friend with roots in Minas, tells me. I’ve called both him and Tuzinho to get their opinions on what makes a quality galinhada, and also to make sure I hadn’t misinterpreted some of what I’d picked up from my own recipe research. It was good I did, because I’d wrongly assumed the açafrão (saffron) I saw mentioned in multiple recipes was the famously expensive crocus threads, when in fact it was açafrão-da-terra—»earth saffron»—which is one of the ways of saying turmeric in Portuguese. That turmeric, if you use it, is often combined with annatto powder to tint the rice a vibrant orange-yellow color.
While those spices don’t add a ton of flavor, those aromatics like garlic and onions certainly do, as does the critical first step of deeply browning the chicken to develop a roasted flavor that infuses the rice while releasing flavorful rendered chicken fat to coat every grain. Other common ingredients one is likely to find in a galinhada include diced carrot, peas, bell peppers, and corn (which, Tuzinho points out, is not the sweet corn we tend to eat in the United States; I have it listed as optional in the recipe below, and did use sweet corn in my own testing since that’s much more readily available here).
Beyond those components, properly seasoning the rice is key. For many Brazilians, that includes adding flavor-enhancers like tempero, a wide range of seasonings and condiments that perform a function similar to sofrito or sazón. But since tempero would require either a trip to a Brazilian grocer or a sub-recipe, I’ve opted to add plenty of garlic to my recipe, am recommending using chicken stock or broth instead of the more-common water in Brazilian recipes, and pre-season that stock with salt to ensure the rice is sufficiently and evenly seasoned. A little sweet paprika in my recipe also adds some subtle spicing, another nod to the kinds of flavor tempero helps add.
As for the rice, I’m calling for parboiled grains, which have been par-cooked and then dried by the manufacturer; when cooked (technically for the second time), the grains remain plump yet firm and are less likely to stick together into gluey clumps, another important quality in a good galinhada. «If your rice sticks together—we call it barroso,» says Tuzinho. «That is not a good thing.»