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.”
In a large measuring cup, combine stock and the 2 teaspoons salt and stir until salt is dissolved. Set aside.
Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. In a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until very well browned, about 10 minutes. Lower heat, stir in turmeric (if using), annatto, and paprika, followed by garlic, carrot, and onion. Season with salt, then cook, stirring and scraping any browned bits from bottom of pot, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in rice and cook until thoroughly coated in oil and seasoning and heated through, about 2 minutes. Add stock along with frozen peas and corn (if using), scraping down sides of pot to ensure all rice grains are submerged. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until liquid is absorbed and rice is just tender, about 25 minutes (or following cooking time on rice package directions).
Remove from heat, stir in scallions, then let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Serve.
5- or 6-quart Dutch oven
Traditionally, this dish would be made with a whole free-range country chicken (a “galinha caipira” in Brazilian Portuguese), though dark meat like thighs and drumsticks remains more tender in a dish like this than white meat. We like using thighs and drumsticks, but feel free to use a small whole chicken or other chicken parts like bone-in breast, if that’s your preference. If you’re able, we recommend splitting the chicken parts in half through the bone to make smaller pieces (you can do this with a cleaver, some high-quality kitchen shears with a bone notch, or by asking the butcher), but the recipe works just fine with the chicken pieces left intact.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Leftover galinhada can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave.