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What is Cabidela?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

The cuisine of Portugal is eclectic and takes inspiration from the native ingredients of several other countries. This is a result of various explorers from Portugal bringing in foods from throughout the world starting in approximately the seventeenth century. Common ingredients in Portuguese dishes include native European, African, and Asian foods and spices, such as onions, garlic, rice, olives, cinnamon, and curry powder. One traditional Portuguese dish is cabidela, which is chicken or rabbit that is browned in oil and served in a lightly flavored sauce. Although traditional recipes for the dish often called for hanging a freshly butchered chicken or rabbit upside and using the animal’s drained blood as the basis for a sauce, more modern versions of the recipe may use other liquids instead.

The main ingredient in cabidela tends to be either a whole chicken or rabbit that is cut down into pieces with the bones intact. Boneless pieces of meat are not used as often because they generally don’t have the same amount of flavor and moisture as bone-in pieces. In addition to the chicken or rabbit, other ingredients that may be used in the dish include onions, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, or peppers. Chicken broth, wine, or water may be substituted for the traditional animal blood as the liquids for making the sauce.

Onions and garlic may be added to cabidela.
Onions and garlic may be added to cabidela.

Preparing cabidela typically begins with cooking the chicken or rabbit pieces in oil on a stovetop until the outsides are lightly browned, but the insides are still not fully cooked. The inside of the chicken or rabbit will finish cooking in the liquid, but the browning adds a richer flavor than cooking in the liquid alone. If onions, garlic, or other flavoring agents are being used, the chicken or rabbit will be browned and removed from the pan, and then the flavoring agents will generally be cooked in the oil; this is due to the longer cooking time required for the chicken or rabbit. Just enough of the preferred liquid ingredients are then added to the pot to fully cover all of the ingredients. The dish is then covered with a lid to trap steam and add moisture to the dish, and cooked over a low temperature until the ingredients are fully cooked through.

There are variations to the traditional dish. Cabidela is also commonly served over white rice, or the rice may be added to the pot while the other ingredients cook in the liquid. This variation is known as arroz de cabidela. Other variations on the dish include substituting pork or duck in place of the chicken or rabbit. To impart a different flavor, some recipes may call for the use of curry or cinnamon to impart an Indian-inspired taste.

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    • Onions and garlic may be added to cabidela.
      By: nrazumoff
      Onions and garlic may be added to cabidela.